Jones v. Governor of Florida, No. 20-12003 (11th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
The people of Florida amended their state constitution to restore the voting rights of convicted felons. Before regaining the right to vote, felons must complete all the terms of their sentences, including imprisonment, probation, and payment of any fines, fees, costs, and restitution. Felons sued, challenging the requirement that they pay their fines, fees, costs, and restitution before regaining the right to vote. They alleged the requirement violated the Equal Protection Clause as applied to felons who cannot pay; imposed a tax on voting in violation of the Twenty-Fourth Amendment; was void for vagueness; and adopted requirements that make it difficult for them to determine whether they are eligible to vote. The district court permanently enjoined the condition's enforcement.
The Eleventh Circuit reversed. States may restrict voting by felons in ways that would be impermissible for other citizens. Laws governing felon disenfranchisement and re-enfranchisement are generally subject to rational basis review; “reform may take one step at a time.” Florida has legitimate interests in disenfranchising convicted felons, even those who have completed their sentences, and in restoring felons to the electorate after justice has been done and they have been fully rehabilitated. Fines, which are paid to the government as punishment for a crime, and restitution, which compensates crime victims, are not taxes. Felons and law enforcement can readily discern exactly what conduct is prohibited: a felon may not vote or register to vote if he knows that he has failed to complete all terms of his criminal sentence.