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. The author of this post is Hank Berrien
Siding with the League of Women Voters, which had sued the Florida Secretary of State, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Republican National Committee, a Florida federal judge nominated by former President Barack Obama in 2012 ruled Thursday that some of the state's new election laws are unconstitutional and implied they are racially motivated. He also ruled that for the next ten years, his court "retains jurisdiction"
and the state may "enact no law or regulation governing 3PVROs, drop boxes, or 'line warming' activities, as those terms are defined in this Order, without submitting such law or regulation for preclearance."
Judge Mark E. Walker of Federal District Court in Tallahassee, who stated that those who argue that we live in a post-racial society are wrong, began his ruling by stating portentously, "This case is about our sacred right to vote-won at great cost in blood and treasure."
Walker's decision means that state and local officials may not enforce, according to the Tampa Bay Times:
A provision that limited the use of ballot drop boxes to early voting hours, unless they're in a supervisor's office, and required the boxes to be manned at all times;
A requirement that third-party groups issue a warning when trying to register voters, including telling voters that their registration application might not be turned in before the voter registration deadline or within the required 14 days.
A provision that changed the rules around the "no-solicitation zone" around a polling site to prohibit "any activity with the intent to influence or effect of influencing a voter."
Walker summed up the arguments from both sides, concluding the "plaintiffs are right"
Defendants argue that SB 90 makes minor prophylactic changes to the election code. Plaintiffs, on the other hand, allege that SB 90 runs roughshod over the right to vote, unnecessarily making voting harder for all eligible Floridians, unduly burdening disabled voters, and intentionally targeting minority voters-all to improve the electoral prospects of the party in power. This Court has received thousands of pages of evidence-plus thousands more pages of briefing-and has heard two weeks' worth of testimony from 42 witnesses, ranging from state senators to statisticians. Having reviewed all the evidence, this Court finds that, for the most part, Plaintiffs are right.
Walker stated dramatically that the Voting Rights Act was "under siege."
He also asserted, "This Court finds that the Legislature enacted some of SB 90's provisions with the intent to discriminate against Black voters."
He opined, "There are those who suggest that we live in a post-racial society. ... But that is simply not so."
He wrote, "... when the Florida Legislature passes law after law disproportionately burdening Black voters, this Court can no longer accept that the effect is incidental. Based on the indisputable pattern set out above, this Court finds that, in the past 20 years, Florida has repeatedly sought to make voting tougher for Black voters because of their propensity to favor Democratic candidates. In summation, Florida has a horrendous history of racial discrimination in voting."
While stating that "when called to examine the Florida Election Code's fidelity to federal law, this Court must use a gentle touch, recognizing the State's prerogative to make such laws while also safeguarding the Constitution's guarantees to the people of Florida,"
Walker continued, "Recognizing this truth, this Court has long deferred to the State when evaluating its election regulations. ... Sometimes, however, Florida goes too far.... But even then, Florida has often accepted this Court's ruling and endeavored to fix the deficiency."
In an astonishing passage, Walker wrote that he had to infer the legislature's racial motivations by relying on circumstantial evidence:
... in this day and age, few would be so foolish as to openly admit their racial motivations-knowing that any such statement would provide fodder for a law's opponents. Instead, this Court must rely on circumstantial evidence. In other words, this Court must infer the Legislature's intent from all of the circumstances surrounding SB 90's passage.
Walker then segued into art, writing, "Think of it like viewing a pointillist painting, such as Georges Seurat's A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. One dot of paint on the canvas is meaningless, but when thousands of dots are viewed together, they create something recognizable. So too here, one piece of evidence says little, but when all of the evidence is viewed together, a coherent picture emerges."
Walker attacked the Supreme Court, writing, "...the Court has allowed its wholly judge-made prudential rule to trump some of our most precious constitutional rights."
He wrote, "Floridians have been forced to live under a law that violates their rights on multiple fronts for over a year. Without preclearance, Florida could continue to enact such laws, replacing them every legislative session if courts view them with skepticism. Such a scheme makes a mockery of the rule of law."
Republican Governor Ron DeSantis responded to the ruling by saying, "In front of certain district judges, we know we will lose no matter what because they are not going to follow the law. ... It's just a matter of how quickly it's going to get reversed."
Wilton Simpson, the president of the Florida State Senate, reacted to Walker's decision by calling it "highly unprofessional, inaccurate, and unbecoming of an officer of the court."
The case will now go to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, Georgia, which is considered much more conservative.
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