Advertisement
  1. Opinion

The Florida governor's bold move on Amendment 4. Or is that against Amendment 4?

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis would like the Florida Supreme Court to opine on the Amendment 4 mess, please. [CHRIS URSO | Times]
Published Aug. 13

Now here's an interesting maneuver in the high-stakes chess game of restoring voting rights to felons in Florida. Or not restoring them, depending on how this shakes out.

The governor just asked for the Florida Supreme Court's opinion on restrictions that lawmakers quickly added to Amendment 4, which was intended to automatically give the vote back to felons who had done their time. (I say restriction, they say clarification.) Either way, what the court does could say a lot about the future of voting rights in our state.

Nearly two-thirds of us said yes in November to a measure that could reinstate that right to more than a million Florida felons, except for those convicted of murder and sex crimes. But once it passed, Republican lawmakers got to work clarifying things, even though people at the polls seemed to get it just fine. They specified that a felony sentence is not complete, and therefore a felon not eligible to vote, until all fines, fees and restitution are paid in full. Gov. Ron DeSantis made this the law.

Except, as those familiar with the justice system can tell you, many who can't pay up and will never be able to pay up would be shut out. And just in time for the 2020 elections.

Lawsuits ensued. Last week, DeSantis sent off a letter to the Florida Supreme Court asking for an interpretation of whether "completion of all terms of sentence" means making good on all fines and fees.

Which might be a brilliant move, if you are on the side of curtailing who gets to vote, and also mindful that those with their rights restored could tend to vote Democrat.

Why brilliant? Because supporters of Amendment 4 might be vulnerable. As the governor helpfully pointed out in his letter to the justices, an Amendment 4 advocate speaking to the court back in 2017 was asked if "completion of all terms" included full payment of any fines. That advocate said yes, "all terms means all terms within the four corners."

Amendment 4 opponents have them there, and I don't know a judge (or justice) around who takes kindly to being told one thing and then something else.

Did I mention that DeSantis appointed three of the current justices soon after taking office?

A Supreme Court agreement with the clarification of Amendment 4 could mute some of the criticism Republicans have gotten for keeping Americans from being able to participate again. A nod from the high court might be persuasive in those pending lawsuits. Cutting out thousands — some say hundreds of thousands — who could have soon voted would just be icing on the cake.

Or perhaps the court will decline to opine.

But here's the thing.

Voters who said yes to Amendment 4 didn't vote specifically on paying off fees and costs first. The ballot said someone had to "complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation." Whether voters even considered that financial detail a factor is anyone's guess.

The question, then: Will the justices of the Florida Supreme Court consider not only what someone advocating for Amendment 4 told them, but also the spirit of what voters believed they were voting for?

Stay tuned for the next move.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Ayana Lage, 26, and Vagner Lage, 27, pose with a sonogram of their unborn child. Ayana writes openly about going through a miscarriage due to the baby having a rare genetic defect. She wonders why more women don't discuss their miscarriages. JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |  Times
    Sunday’s letters to the editor
  2. Kreshae Humphrey, 26, applies ointments to the skin of her 3-year-old daughter, Nevaeh Soto De Jesus, after bathing her in bottled water. The parents bathe all three of their girls with bottled water because they believe the children were sickened by the tap water at the Southern Comfort mobile home park off U.S. 19 in Clearwater. The family is suing the park's owner over the issue, but the owner and the state say there are no problems with the drinking water there. MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times
    The story of a Clearwater mobile home park and its water issues reflects a systemic breakdown.
  3. A long stretch of US 98 remains closed for repairs in Mexico Beach on Friday, September 27, 2019, almost one year after Hurricane Michael made landfall in the small coastal town. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Time is running out, so let’s get practical, says Craig Fugate
  4. FROM PRINT: Adam Goodman, national Republican media consultant
    Sure, fix capitalism’s flaws, but a wealth tax is not the way. | Adam Goodman
  5. 
 CLAY BENNETT  |  Chattanooga Times Free Press
  6. A view of the downtown St. Petersburg skyline and waterfront from over Tampa Bay.
    The news that the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation wants to change its name to include “Tampa Bay” has been met with resistance.
  7. Catherine Rampell, Washington Post columnist.
    Allegations of political cowardice can seem rich coming from candidates unwilling to acknowledge the obvious truths about things such as higher taxes. | Catherine Rampell
  8. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., left, former Vice President Joe Biden, center, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., raise their hands to speak during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) JOHN MINCHILLO  |  AP
    Here’s some interesting commentary from the opposite poles of the political spectrum.
  9. Yesterday• Opinion
    Letters to the Editor Graphic TARA MCCARTY  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Saturday’s letters to the editor
  10. Boats docked at Central Marine in Stuart are surrounded by blue green algae in June 2016. [The Palm Beach Post]
    The Legislature should step up and stop pollution at its source, write Howard Simon and John Cassani.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement