TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) – Governor Ron DeSantis is invoking a rarely used power, asking the state Supreme Court whether the voter approved restoration of voting rights also includes the payment of all fines, fees, and restitution. The request may be an effort to short circuit a federal lawsuit.
Governor Ron DeSantis is looking into voting rights for felons. (MGN)
In a four page letter, the Governor is asking the Supreme Court whether it believes the voter approved amendment restoring a felons right to vote also requires paying all fines, fees, and other financial obligations.
It’s a question justices themselves asked of sponsor Jon Mills when deciding if the amendment could go on the ballot back in March of 2017.
“All matters. Anything a judge puts in a sentence,” Mills told the court.
“So it would also include the full payment of any fines?” asked Justice Ricky Polston, to which Mills replied: “Yes sir.”
Clemency Attorney Reggie Garcia is quick to point out the implementing law allows felons to ask a judge and state attorney: “To either waive these financial obligations completely, or convert them to community service,” Garcia said.
The ACLU and the League of Women Voters are challenging the amendments implementing law in Federal Court. They say in part it violates the 24th Amendment which prohibits a poll tax.
With a Federal lawsuit already filed, some believe the Governor’s letter asking for an opinion is an attempt to get a state court, the Supreme Court, to make a decision before a Federal court rules.
Human Rights Attorney and FSU Law Professor Mark Schlakman thinks having a state court rule on a state constitutional question is a good idea.
“One might surmise that if any entity is to interpret the Florida Constitution as a result of the amendment becoming effective, that that authority should be the Florida Supreme Court,” Schlakman said.
The request for the courts opinion is rare. Governors have asked the court for advice just eight times since 1989.
And the last time the court was asked for an opinion was in 2010 by then Governor Charlie Crist. It had to do with the Governor’s authority to fill vacancies in the judiciary.