U.S. District Judge Mark E. Walker has recused himself from the federal Amendment 4 lawsuit in Florida because a defendant in the case hired a law firm that his wife works for, Danny Rivero of Miami’s WLRN is reporting.
The defendant is Republican Peter Antonacci, a long-time ally of Sen. Rick Scott (Florida’s former governor). Previously, Antonacci served as Scott’s general counsel when he was governor.
Rivero, describing Walker’s recusal as a “major development” on Twitter, noted that Walker was appointed by former President Barack Obama, while other U.S. District judges in the case were appointed by President Donald Trump.
The lawsuit is challenging a bill that was passed by Florida’s Republican-dominated legislature; the bill requires former felons in that state to pay all fines and fees associated with their cases before they can vote again. And plaintiffs, in their lawsuit, are alleging that the bill is a voter suppression tactic and a violation of Amendment 4 — which was passed by about 65% of Florida voters in November 2018 and grants new voting rights to Floridians with felony convictions.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit range from the national and Florida branches of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. In an official statement in June, Daniel Tilley (legal director of the Florida ACLU) said of Republican supporters of the bill, “I think they absolutely don’t want people to vote. There was never any movement by the legislature before this time to open the franchise to more people. Instead, it took the 5 million voters in Florida to pass Amendment 4.”
Fed. Judge Mark Walker disqualifies himself from major Amendment 4 (#SB7066) lawsuit because a defendant hired a law firm that employs his wife.
Walker is the one who previously declared Florida’s rights restoration process was unconstitutional. pic.twitter.com/imEvdJqlfq
— Danny Rivero (@TooMuchMe) July 17, 2019
Wow. This is a big deal. Judge Walker recuses himself for handling the #Amendment4 lawsuit because a defendant hired a law firm where his wife is partner.
Walker called “deeply troubling.”
Who did it? Peter Antonacci, a longtime — and controversial — @SenRickScott loyalist. https://t.co/kvXAnAYVTi
— Lawrence Mower (@lmower3) July 17, 2019
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill into office in June. And attorneys for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit were hoping that Walker would fast-track the case.