Florida Supreme Court
Case No. SC19-1341
Jan 2020

Advisory Opinion: Implementation of Amendment 4, The Voting Restoration Amendment

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Case Details

Decision

In a 4-1 decision, the Court ruled that the average voter would have interpreted the words "all terms of sentence" to include fines and fees (LFOs). The ruling reads:

"... our opinion is based not on the Sponsor’s subjective intent or campaign statements, but rather on the objective meaning of the constitutional text. ... the phrase 'all terms of sentence,' ... has an ordinary meaning that the voters would have understood to refer not only to durational periods but also to all LFOs imposed in conjunction with an adjudication of guilt."

The concurring Justices considered only the words in question. Several pages are dedicated to the meaning of the words themselves. None of the other evidence provided influenced their decision. Other evidence only supported their decision.

This theory is called textualism, also known as the supremacy-of-text principle.

Partial Dissent: Justice Labarga

"I concur with the majority’s ultimate decision ... . I do not concur, however, with the majority’s conclusion that the phrase ... “has an ordinary meaning that the voters would have understood” to include LFOs. [Or] with the majority’s strict [use] of the theory referred to as the “supremacy-of-text principle” to the exclusion of available extrinsic evidence..."

While Labarga agreed with the outcome, he did not agree with how the Court got there. Labarga considered the evidence presented to determine the amendment sponsor's intent. This includes the brief from the sponsor, which says individuals would regain their right to vote after "all obligations imposed under their criminal sentence". He suggests the words in the amendment itself are too vague to determine how the average voter would have interpreted them. He notes that the Court only considered the vague words presented to make their decision, excluding any other evidence that could show intent.

Read the full ruling at 5cda.org

Background

In 2018, 64.55% of voters passed Amendment 4, also known as the Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative. It automatically restores the right to vote for Floridians with prior felony convictions when their sentence is completed. It did not include those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense.

After the amendment was approved by voters, Governor Ron DeSantis requested a law from the Legislature to implement the amendment. In 2019, a law was passed which requires payment of  "'all fines and fees' associated with their sentence" before restoring voting rights.

In addition to this Florida Supreme Court opinion, there have been other lawsuits in federal court. Opponents say the law violates amendment(s) to the U.S. Constitution.

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