TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The state Supreme Court took a look at Amendment 4 Wednesday. Their decision could impact 1.4 million Florida felons' ability to vote.
Justices were trying to figure out if the words “completion of all terms of sentence” require former inmates to pay fines, fees and restitution before getting their voting rights back.
Attorneys for the governor and legislature argued that was the amendment’s original intent.
“'All terms of sentence' is intended to capture everything that a judge puts in a sentencing order,” said the Governor’s General Counsel Joseph Jacquot. "Whether those are discretionary items or items required by law."
Civil rights groups disagreed, calling the interpretation an unconstitutional poll tax.
“So long as the 'completion of sentence' includes legal financial obligations, that would violate the 14th Amendment,” said Molly Danahy, a D.C. based attorney working in partnership with the ACLU.
Governor Ron DeSantis called for the Supreme Court review after the legislature passed a law last session requiring felons pay up to vote. The court’s opinion won’t change it — but could help sway a federal lawsuit in April, challenging the financial requirements.
Attorneys for the ACLU said outside the courtroom they were feeling confident regardless of how the justices rule.
“Regardless of what the court says, it will not impact in the slightest the ongoing federal litigation that demonstrates it is unconstitutional to deny someone the right to vote based on their ability to pay," said Daniel Tilley with the ACLU. "We’re going to continue to make that case in every venue we’re making it in."
The justices didn’t give any indication on when they would render an opinion on the amendment’s language.
Attorneys for the governor declined to comment.