Election Law @ Moritz

Election Law Litigation

Johnson v. Bush

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(page last updated October 30, 2007 at 2:44 PM)

Case Information

All Courts: United States District Court, Southern District of Florida (Case ); U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit (Case 02-14469); U.S. Supreme Court (Case 05-212)
Topic(s): Felon Voting Rights
State: Florida
Date Filed: September 21, 2000
Date Ended: November 15, 2005


Eight Florida citizens, representing a class of over 613,000 Florida citizens who have fully served sentences of incarceration, probation, or parole on felony convictions, are challenging the Florida Constitutional provision barring convicted felons from voting in the State of Florida. Absent a granting of discretionary executive clemency, these individuals are barred for life from participating in elections.

Plaintiffs contend that this provision violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, as well as the 14th and 15th Amendments to the United States Constitution. Plaintiffs contend that: the original provision, enacted in 1868, was motivated by a discriminatory purpose to disenfranchise African-Americans; this provision was reenacted in 1968 with no explanation provided, maintaining the original taint of discriminatory purpose in the 1868 enactment; the disproportionate effect on African Americans; and, the fact that African Americans are less likely to have their rights restored.

In this matter, the District Court granted summary judgment to Defendants, members of Florida's Clemency Board and county election supervisors. A divided panel from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision, holding that the District Court failed to apply proper standard and to consider relevant evidence under the totality of the circumstances test and genuine issues of material fact under Voting Rights Act and 14th and 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution existed to withstand summary judgment. An en banc panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals then vacated this decision, upholding the District Court's granting of summary judgment. The Court conceded the fact that some provisions of the 1868 Constitution were discriminatorily motivated, but this did not mean all provisions were. The Court, however, went on to state that there was no direct evidence of discriminatory motivation behind the provision in question. Additionally, in 1968, amendments to the Florida Constitution were considered and debated in a deliberative process, and amendments to the provision in question were changed to only include felons, whereas in the past people convicted of misdemeanors were also disenfranchised. No evidence of racial animus was provided, a valid reason for the provision was found, and as such the provision was found to be constitutional. Finally, the Court held that the legislative history behind Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act indicates that, while the section was intended to prevent discrimination in elections, it was never intended to affect a State's ability to disenfranchise persons convicted of felonies. Plaintiffs now seek review from the United States Supreme Court in order to resolve the split among Courts regarding the interpretation of the intent of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and to resolve the confusion in lower Courts regarding the evidentiary standard when considering governmental purposes of enacted legislation.

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