TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday he would appeal a federal judge’s decision to strike down a Florida law requiring felons to pay fines and fees associated with their sentences before getting back their right to vote.
"It'll go to the 11th Circuit, and we'll see what happens there," DeSantis told reporters in Miami, referring to the Atlanta-based appellate court.
U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle issued a ruling Sunday that said Florida's law approved in 2019 to install Amendment 4 was unconstitutional because it required felons to pay restitution, fines and fees before being able to vote. Florida voters approved the amendment in 2018 with more than 64% of the vote.
Hinkle called the law a "pay-to-vote system" and noted the difficulty in finding out how much a felon might owe.
The ruling calls on state elections officials to determine the amount owed and allow felons to seek an advisory opinion for the full amount. If there's no response in three weeks, they should be allowed to vote, the ruling states.
The lawsuit brought by 17 ex-felons was argued by lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union and backed by other liberal and voting rights groups, which called the ruling a victory.
Republican lawmakers who passed the law have defended their approach, noting that supporters of Amendment 4 argued before the Florida Supreme Court in 2018 that felons who complete “all terms of sentence” would have to pay fines and fees before being allowed to vote.
But Democrats opposed the law, characterizing it as a “poll tax” by requiring such payments before a vote. They also argued that the amendment was self-implementing and didn’t need a law approved by the Legislature and governor.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals previously upheld a preliminary injunction issued by Hinkle striking down the law.