TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Almost eight months after Florida voters approved Amendment 4, the voting rights of as many as 1.5 million felons who have served their prison sentences have yet to be formally restored.
Under an Amendment 4 implementation law passed by the legislature's majority Republicans and signed Friday by Gov. Ron DeSantis, felons are required to pay outstanding court fees and fines and restitution in order to register to vote. Within hours of the governor's action, three voting rights groups filed federal lawsuits seeking to overturn the law.
Those lawsuits have now been combined into a single case that will be heard by U.S. District Court Judge Mark Walker.
1. Who is Judge Mark Walker?
In 2012, Walker was nominated by former President Barack Obama to serve on the Tallahassee-based U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida. He has consistently ruled against the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature and former Republican Gov. Rick Scott on voting rights issues.
2. How have Walker's rulings stymied the actions of the governor and legislature?
In 2016, Walker wrote that Scott's refusal to extend Florida's voter registration deadline in the wake of Hurricane Matthew was "poppycock" and ordered the deadline extended. He also overturned the Scott administration's policy against allowing early voting sites on Florida's college campuses and ordered election supervisors to notify vote-by-mail voters of signature 'mismatches' that, if not corrected, could result in their ballots being invalidated.
3. What does his record portend for the current case?
Attorneys for the voting rights groups - the Florida chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union, League of Women Voters and NAACP - had hoped their lawsuits to overturn the Amendment 4 implementation measure would be handled by Judge Walker because of his rulings in favor of expansive voting rights. They got their wish late Sunday, when Walker announced he'd be hearing the consolidated case.
4. What do the Republicans behind the Amendment 4 implementation law think about the assignment of the case to Judge Walker?
Republicans contend there is little leeway for any judge to use in an effort to invalidate the law. Amendment 4, they say, makes no mention of fees, fines and restitution being outside the "four corners" of a felon's sentence.
5. What happens next?
Now that the lawsuits have been consolidated, attorneys for the voting rights groups and the state will begin preparing their oral arguments. Judge Walker will hear those arguments in the coming weeks.