U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle threw out Florida’s restrictive felon voting rights law, declaring some parts of it unconstitutional.

The law regulates the enfranchisement and disenfranchisement of felons, ruling that convicts asking to be re-enfranchised will have to pay court debts. Hinkle attacked the prerequisite, claiming that it would fail to foster judicial equality.

“This pay-to-vote system would be universally decried as unconstitutional but for one thing: each citizen at issue was convicted, at some point in the past, of a felony offense,” the judge said in his 125-page ruling. “A state may disenfranchise felons and impose conditions on their reenfranchisement. But the conditions must pass constitutional scrutiny.”

Asking felons to pay to be able to vote would discriminate against those who can’t afford it and fail to recognize their equality before the law. The costs that ex-convicts in Florida were supposed to bear included administrative and logistical expenses.


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“Whatever might be said of a rationally constructed system, this one falls short in substantial respects,” he said.

Paul Smith, vice president of the Campaign Legal Center, applauded the ruling and defined it a milestone for Florida’s justice system.

“Today’s decision is a landmark victory for hundreds of thousands of voters who want their voices to be heard,” Smith said. “This is a watershed moment in election law. States can no longer deny people access to the ballot box based on unpaid court costs and fees, nor can they condition rights restoration on restitution and fines that a person cannot afford to pay.”

Hinkle said that the ruling would be historic.

“[T]axation without representation led a group of patriots to throw lots of tea into a harbor when there were barely united colonies, let alone a United States,” Hinkle claimed. “Before Amendment 4, no state disenfranchised as large a portion of the electorate as Florida.“

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