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Raysor v. DeSantis

Full name: Bonnie Raysor, et al. v. Ron DeSantis, Governor of Florida, et al.

Click here to read the decision

Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Elena Kagan
Sonia Sotomayor

Note: Court justices do not represent any political party. The color of each judge's name represents the political party of the president who appointed the judge.

Click here for a list of all Supreme Court justices

Related News

FL felon law unconstitutional
FL: Sup. Court: puts felons on hold

Court allows Florida to stop ex-felon registration

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Florida law requiring felons to pay off all fines and fees before they can legally register to vote.

The ruling overturns the 11th Circuit District Dourt ruling that the law is unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court previously upheld the appeals court decision allowing Florida to enforce the law while it is in the appeals process.

How this case originated

In 2016, Florida voters approved Amendment 4, which reinstated voting rights for many felons "after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation."

In 2019, the Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed SB-7066, which requires felons to pay off all fines and fees related to their conviction.

Several lawsuits were filed (later combined into a single one), claiming the law is unconstitutional.

2019-Oct: District Court issues injunction against the law

In October 2019, a Florida district court granted an injunction - prohibiting Florida from denying voter registration to any of the plaintiffs solely because they cannot afford to pay their legal financial obligations (LFOs).

"This is a voting-rights case and elections are upcoming; delay would decrease the chance that this case can be property resolved ... in time for eligible voters ... to be able to vote," Judge Robert Hinkle wrote to explain why he was granting the injunction.

Florida officials argued that it isn't a voting-rights case, but rather one that involves only restorations of the right to vote.

"... voting is no less important to these plaintiffs than to others, and a ruling (here) is no less urgent than it would be for individuals who have never been convicted," Hinkle wrote.

2020-Feb: Appeals Court upholds injunction

In February 2020, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the injunction against the Florida law.

Judges R. Lanier Anderson, Stanley Marcus, and Barbara Rothstein wrote that the injunction is appropriate because "the LFO requirement punishes those who cannot pay more harshly than those who can - and does so by continuing to deny them access to the ballot box."

Florida argued that the fines help the state regain the revenues lost by the criminal process, and that disenfranchisement could serve as an incentive for former felons to pay those financial obligations.

The requirement could not serve either of those purposes, the ruling reasons:

"If a felon is truly indigent and unable to pay his LFOs, Florida's requirement obviously does not serve revenue collection; the defendant cannot pay because he is indigent...

The problem with the incentive-collections theory is that it relies on the notion that the destitute would only, with the prospect of being able to vote, begin to scratch and claw for every penny, ignoring the far more powerful incentives that already exist for them - like putting food on the table, a roof over their heads, and clothes on their back"

Statistics bear that out, the ruling states. In 2018 the state collected only a fifth of outstanding court-related fines.

"In short, apparently, Florida itself does not expect to collect most legal financial obligations, largely on account of indigency," the ruling stated.

2020-May-24: District Court rules law unconstitutional

In May 2020, a district court ruled the law unconstitutional.

The opinion is summarized by Hinkle in the first paragraph of his ruling:

The State of Florida has adopted a system under which nearly a million otherwise-eligible citizens will be allowed to vote only if they pay an amount of money. Most of the citizens lack the financial resources to make the required payment. Many do not know, and some will not be able to find out, how much they must pay. For most, the required payment will consist only of charges the State imposed to fund government operations - taxes in substance though not in name."

In his 125-page opinion, Hinkle wrote that...

o A state can condition voting on payment of LFOs that a person is able to pay, but not on those that a person is unable to pay.

o The "pay-to-vote" system is applied inconsistently in different counties - violating the principle established in Bush v. Gore.

o Many of the fees actually are taxes - "a means of funding the governemnt in general or specific government functions." This violates the 24th Amendment's prohibition on requiring a tax to vote. "The words "any... other tax' are right there in the amendment," Hinkle wrote.

o When the fine is for restitution, it may have become impossible to determine who to pay. "Insisting on payment for amounts long forgotten seems an especially poor basis for denying the franchise," Hinkle wrote.

o It sometimes is impossible to determine the amount owed, due to the way Florida maintains its systems.

Hinkle also noted that a budget analysis for the bill projected a need for 21 additional employees to process the increased workload. Yet no funds were allocated for these employees, and none were hired.

Florida could not show that it would complete its review of applications earlier than 2026.

The law would deter people from voting who cannot determine whether they have satisfied all of their obligations, as providing a false statement is a felony. Especially in Florida, where any voter can challenge any other voter's eligibility.

"The takeway: it is certain that some eligible voters will choose not to vote because of the manner in which the State has administered - and failed to administer - the pay-to-vote system," Hinkle wrote.

Hinkle expanded the injunction against the law - providing a path for all felons to register to vote if they can show they have paid all fees they are aware of and have the ability to pay.

2020-July-1: Appeals Court lifts injunction

On July 1, 2020, the 11th Circuit Appeals Court lifted the injunction against the law, pending an appeal. It provided no explanation.

Judges involved in the decision...

William PryorGeorge W. Bush
Charles WilsonBill Clinton
Beverly MartinBarack Obama
Adalberto JordanBarack Obama
Jill PryorBarack Obama
Kevin NewsomDonald Trump
Elizabeth BranchDonald Trump
Britt GrantDonald Trump
Robert LuckDonald Trump
Barbara LagoaDonald Trump

Two judges, Robin Rosenbaum and Andrew Brasher, recused themselves from the decision.

2020-July-16: Supreme Court refuses to reinstate injunction

On July 16, 2020, the Supreme Court refused to reinstate the injunction.

The only comment was a dissent from Justice Sonya Sotomayor, who was joined by justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan.

Sotomayor wrote that the order lifting the injunction, "prevents thousands of otherwise eligible voters from participating in Florida's primary election simply because they are poor."

2020-Sep-11: Appeals Court says law is constitutional

On Sep. 11, 2020, the 11th Circuit Appeals Court overturned the District Court's decision, thus allowing Florida to require that felons pay off all financial obligations related to their conviction before they are allowed to vote.

In his majority opinion, Chief Judge William Pryor wrote that the requirement to pay fees is different from a poll tax.

While poll taxes are unconstitutional because they affect all voters, "the fines are directly related to legitimate voter qualifications," in that the person had been stripped of their right to vote due to a felony conviction.

"Poll taxes are never relevant to voter qualifications, but laws that require the completion of a criminal sentence are," Pryor wrote.

Pryor added an interpretation to the state's constitutional amendment allowing felons to vote, writing:

"The people of Florida could rationally conclude that felons who have completed all terms of their sentences, including paying their fines, fees, costs, and restitutions, are more likely to responsibly exercise the franchise than those who have not."

He dismissed the argument that the law is unconstitutional because most felons would not be able to afford to pay.

The proportion of felons who can eventually complete their sentences has no bearing on whether it is rational to conclude that felons who do complete their sentences - whatever their number - are generally more deserving of reenfranchisement than those who do not.... In fact, it is the [dissenting judges] who would nullify the will of the Florida electorate by reenfranchising felons whom voters clearly would not have expected to benefit ... including a named plaintiff who jointly owes $59 million in restitution for conspiracy to commit insurance and wire fraud."

Prior also wrote that the law does not violate due-process even if a felon cannot obtain the information they need.

He called it a "fundamental confusion" that Florida would be "responsible not only for giving felons notice of the standards that determine their eligibility to vote but also for locating and providing felons with the facts necessary to determine whether they have completed their financial terms of sentence."


In her dissent, Judge Beverly Martin wrote:

"The majority breezes over the infirmities of the process. But I cannot so easily condone a system that is projected to take upwards of six years simply to tell citizens whether they are eligible to vote."

Martin rejected the majority opinion that due-process wouldn't be a consideration.

"Once a State promises its citizens restoration of their right to vote based on defined, objective criteria, it has created a due-process interest," she wrote.

The dissent also included a quote from the American Bar Association's 2018 Ten Guidelines on Court Fines and Fees:

"Failure to pay court fines and fees should never result in the deprivation of fundamental rights, including the right to vote."

Decision does not affect felons who previously registered

85,000 former felons who had previously registered to vote will be allowed to vote because Florida has yet to screen their registrations. An estimated 750,000, however, will risk prosecution if they register and it later is determined their LFEs had not been paid.

Judges involved in the decision...

Judges in the majority:
William PryorGeorge W. Bush
Kevin NewsomDonald Trump
Elizabeth BranchDonald Trump
Britt GrantDonald Trump
Robert LuckDonald Trump
Barbara LagoaDonald Trump

Judges in the minority:
Charles WilsonBill Clinton
Beverly MartinBarack Obama
Adalberto JordanBarack Obama
Jill PryorBarack Obama

More information

This case was a consolidation of several cases, including by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Brennan Center for Justice, and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The suits were filed on the behalf of those disenfranchised.

For a history of the litigation related to the case, see this Brennan Center report.


The Supreme Court's July 16 ruling was not on the merits of the case, but simply on whether to reinstate the injunction (which it declined to do). We will update the votes if the court makes subsequent rulings on the case.

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