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As ACLU touts court victories against Gov. Rick Scott, state GOP attacks group

TALLAHASSEE — As the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida touted its courtroom victories against Gov. Rick Scott's administration Thursday, the Republican Party of Florida made a scathing rebuttal.

The party accused the civil rights group of ignoring the will of voters, inflating its successes and filing frivolous lawsuits that cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.

"The ACLU has largely failed Florida taxpayers, who voted for and support many of the initiatives that the ACLU opposes," wrote Republican Party of Florida spokesman Brian Burgess in response to a report released by the group Thursday.

The public skirmish is only the latest between the state GOP and the civil rights group since a Republican supermajority swept into the Legislature and Scott took office in 2011.

The report, which comes just before lawmakers meet for the first time this year ahead of the 2013 session, spells out the status of nine lawsuits the ACLU has been involved with against the state and outlines the group's legislative priorities.

Among other requests, the ACLU called on Scott and the Legislature to reverse the controversial voting law that led to long lines during the 2012 election and to restore voting rights for nonviolent felons.

In 2012, the Cabinet voted to require all felons to wait five to seven years after completing their sentences to apply to have their right to vote restored.

"We issued the report because I thought the past two years were rather extraordinary ..." said Howard Simon, president of ACLU of Florida. "Whether it's voting rights, privacy rights, freedom of speech, or redistricting, the ACLU has played a role in protecting the people from their own government." With only a few dozen employees, the ACLU of Florida is a perpetual thorn in the side of the Scott administration. The group has little clout in the Republican-dominated legislative and executive branches, but flexes its muscle in the courts, where its lawsuits have overturned many of Scott's highest priority laws.

For example, the group played a role in challenging the Firearms Owners' Privacy Act, which bans doctors from asking patients if they own guns. Miami Federal Judge Marcia Cooke struck down the law, and the state has appealed.

A federal district court in Orlando also struck down a Scott-backed law that required welfare recipients to take drug tests, even as dozens of other states rushed to pass similar proposals. Florida appealed the ruling to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, which has not ruled.

The Republican Party of Florida criticized the report as making light of the legal battles in which Scott came out a winner. Furthermore, the report states, ACLU ignores the will of voters — opposing laws that are "wildly popular with Florida citizens."

Despite an ACLU lawsuit, the U.S. Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security approved Scott's method of purging Florida voter rolls of noncitizens. And so did the majority of voters, according to a Quinnipiac University poll.

Drug testing for welfare recipients has also polled well, wrote Burgess. "(The report) once again exposed the organization's willingness to oppose common sense, stretch the truth and play partisan politics rather than act as a true 'defender of liberty' as it claims," Burgess said.

Contact Brittany Alana Davis at bdavis@tampabay.com or (850) 323-0353.

As ACLU touts court victories against Gov. Rick Scott, state GOP attacks group 01/10/13 [Last modified: Thursday, January 10, 2013 10:53pm]
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