MIAMI – A federal appeals court in Atlanta on Tuesday upheld Florida's 160-year-old law enforcing a lifetime ban on voting rights (search) for convicted felons.
Ex-felons sued in 2000 to get their voting rights restored when their sentences are finished, instead of having to apply through a complex system for civil rights restoration. Many never apply or don't complete the process.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (search) did not give a voting tally Tuesday, but of 12 judges that heard the case, there was one full written dissent and one partial dissent.
Jessie Allen (search), lead attorney for the ex-offenders, said the case will be taken to the U.S. Supreme Court. Activists also hope for action in the Florida Legislature.
"I am confident that one way or another it will change," said Allen, associate council at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University.
Allen argued the law is a violation of the U.S. Voting Rights Act, is antidemocratic, and disproportionally disenfranchises blacks.
A total of 600,000 people in Florida are banned; 167,000 are blacks, she said.
The court noted Florida first adopted its ban on felon voting in 1845, basing it on a "nonracial rationale." Blacks were not allowed to vote at the time.
Forty-six states and the District of Columbia have laws depriving inmates of the right to vote to some extent. In 14 states, ex-offenders who have fully served their sentences can, like Florida, be disenfranchised for life.
The office of Attorney General Charlie Crist could not be reached for comment in several attempts after hours.
Gov. Jeb Bush's (search) spokesman, Jacob DiPetre, applauded the ruling.
"This was a decisive ruling. The court ruled that Florida's process is a fair and good one and felons have the ability to get their rights restored through a deliberative and fair review," DiPetre said.