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‘This court does not play games’: Judge rebukes Rick Scott for tantrum over felon voting rights

The judge admonished him for fighting the court's decision, calling it a "fit of histrionics."

Florida Governor Rick Scott interacts with people at Restaurant El Arepazo. CREDIT: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Florida Governor Rick Scott interacts with people at Restaurant El Arepazo. CREDIT: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A federal judge on Wednesday rejected Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R)’s attempts to avoid creating a new system to allow for ex-felons to regain their voting rights. In a sharply worded order, the judge claimed that the governor is engaging in a “fit of histrionics.”

The court previously ruled in February that Florida’s process for restoring voting rights to people with felony convictions is unconstitutional, largely because it gives the state’s clemency board “unfettered discretion” to choose who can have their rights restored and when. Under that system, Florida required all ex-felons to wait five years, then petition Scott and the three Cabinet members who sit on the board for clemency.

In late March, the court found that system violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments and gave Scott until April 26 to propose a new system to allow people convicted of felonies in Florida to regain their voting rights.

Instead of beginning work to draft a new system, Scott and his attorneys asked the court Wednesday to stay the order. Judge Mark E. Walker, a Barack Obama nominee, issued his ruling later the same day, explaining in no uncertain terms that Scott’s arguments, “to put it mildly, are unpersuasive.”

Rather than comply with the requirements of the United States Constitution, Defendants continue to insist they can do whatever they want with hundreds of thousands of Floridians’ voting rights and absolutely zero standards. They ask this Court to stay its prior orders.

No.

In his motion to stay the ruling, Scott argued it was unreasonable to require him to “revamp a 150-year-old vote-restoration scheme in 30 days” and that state law should preempt federal law. The judge was less than humored with the arguments.

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“This court does not play games,” Walker wrote, explaining that Scott falls “woefully short” of his burden to convince the court that it should stay its own ruling.

“Instead, defendants embark on a fit of histrionics atypical for unsuccessful parties before this court,” he wrote.

At another point in the order, the judge wrote that Scott’s claim that he is suffering irreparable harm by the stay is “disingenuous.”

“Defendants stamp their feet and wail that 30 days is ‘not [a] reasonably calculated” time to create a constitutional system of executive clemency,” the judge wrote. “But drafting new rules need not be complicated or time-consuming.”

A representative with Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office declined to comment on ongoing litigation. The office has already filed a notice of appeal at the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and will likely bring the case to the U.S. Supreme Court if that attempt is unsuccessful.

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Jon Sherman, an attorney with the Fair Elections Legal Network who is representing the plaintiffs in the litigation, told ThinkProgress that he doubts Scott will have any more luck on appeal.

“The court made its decision and they’re having difficultly living with it and complying with it,” he said. “This case is as clear as day.”

Florida is currently one of the four strictest states in the nation where people with felony convictions have their voting rights permanently revoked. Roughly 1.5 million people are disenfranchised because of the policy.

Separate from the litigation, advocacy group Floridians for a Fair Democracy gathered enough signatures to have a ballot measure, the Voting Rights Restoration Amendment, appear on the November ballot. If the amendment passes with 60 percent approval, Floridians who have completed their sentences will have their voting rights automatically restored.

“It would be a happy outcome for us to be mooted out by ballot question 4 passing with 60 percent,” Sherman said about the possibility that his lawsuit will terminate if the amendment passes.

The Florida litigation has also already inspired other states with antiquated and discriminatory felon disenfranchisement policies to file similar litigation. In Mississippi, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a complaint last month arguing that the state’s system is racially biased, unconstitutionally arbitrary, and a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

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“I really just am tired of being bullied by the state of Mississippi,” Dennis Hopkins, a disenfranchised Mississippi resident told ThinkProgress recently. “I get tired of not having my voice heard… It’s a shame that once you get a felony, that they try to hold it against you for the rest of your life. You can pay your fine and you can do your time, but still you’re never forgiven.”