Florida Gov. Rick Scott's administration has appealed a federal judge's bombshell ruling that his state's system for restoring ex-felons' voting rights is unconstitutionally enforced.
The move sets up a potentially lengthy legal battle, which means many of the state's approximately 1.5 million disenfranchised ex-cons likely will remain ineligible to vote in the upcoming 2018 elections. Scott, a Republican, is widely considered a possible U.S. Senate candidate this year.
In court papers, Florida officials disputed U.S. District Judge Mark Walker's findings that the state's procedure is arbitrarily administered. Additionally, lawyers for the state argued, the judge's 30-day deadline for implementing a fix to the process is too tight a timeframe.
"For far too long, activist judges have attempted to rewrite our nation's laws."
"The [clemency] board should have adequate time to debate the various options and to carefully craft rules that are likely to engender public confidence, withstand the test of time, and strike an appropriate balance between the diverse and competing interests at stake," Florida argued in its appeal to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.
The decision to appeal Walker's ruling drew scorn from the state's Democratic gubernatorial candidates, and praise from GOP hopefuls.
"It should be lost on no one that they filed this appeal on the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s tragic assassination," tweeted Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum.
"For far too long, activist judges have attempted to rewrite our nation's laws and it must end," countered Republican candidate Richard Corcoran in a statement.
Scott, who was joined in the appeal by three Cabinet members, ended Florida's policy of automatically restoring voting rights to ex-felons shortly after taking office in 2011. Many states have policies similar to the one Scott ended.
In its place, Scott's administration established a clemency board to review requests by disenfranchised ex-felons.
The board typically hears about 400 cases per year, the Tampa Bay Times reported. The setup has led to a backlog of more than 10,000 cases, according to the paper.
Most former felons have to wait at least five years before they can even apply to have their rights restored. And, detractors argue, the process can be unfair in addition to being too slow.
For example, Judge Walker wrote in an opinion earlier this year that Scott and the Cabinet restored voting rights to a white man who had voted illegally, but told Scott that he had voted for him. Meanwhile, Walker said, others who acknowledged voting illegally — but were black — had their applications turned down.
The American Civil Liberties Union, meanwhile, has thrown its support behind an effort to short-circuit the potentially long-lasting legal battle.
A proposed amendment to Florida's constitution that would automatically restore ex-felons' voting rights has widespread support, the Tampa Bay Times reported. The measure, up for a vote in November, would require 60 percent of the vote to pass.