Gov. Rick Scott and Florida’s three elected Cabinet members Friday mounted a new legal defense of the state’s 150-year-old system for restoring the voting rights of convicted felons. In a filing with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, the four Republican state officials said U.S. District Judge Mark Walker repeatedly “erred” and abused the court’s discretion when he struck down the system as unconstitutional in March. Walker had ordered the state to create a new clemency system for felons within 30 days, but on the night before the deadline, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit stayed Walker’s order, which criticized the existing system for being arbitrary and for giving the governor too much power over every case.
“No court,” the state argues, “has ever held or opined that clemency decisions in general or vote-restoration decisions in particular must be made pursuant to specific standards and a veritable host of states give clemency officials broad discretion to grant pardons to, and thereby restore the voting rights of, some or all categories of convicted felons.”
The state also noted that in a 50-year-old Florida case that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in 1969, convicted felon Rufus Beacham unsuccessfully challenged the voting rights restoration system as “purely discretionary (and without) specific standards.”
The challenge to the Florida system was brought by the Fair Elections Center, an election reform group based in Washington.