TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A U.S. Appeals Court in Florida has reinstated the state’s controversial election integrity law, SB 90. A week ago, a lower court’s judge had blocked most of the law’s provisions and ordered the state to get federal approval before passing more voting legislation for 10 years. A year to-date since the law’s entering state statutes, the ruling was thrown out.
At the end of March, a United States District Court ruled against the majority of legal provisions in a 2021 Florida voting reform law. As a result, Senate Bill 90, which was signed into law May 6, 2021, will now go into effect, in full. While critics of the law call it discriminatory and a form of voter suppression, state leaders and other supporters say the reforms for “election integrity.”
Provisions of SB 90 changed how the state runs elections and how accessible voting is for those voting by mail or using absentee ballots at drop boxes. In a statement after signing the bill into law, Gov. Ron DeSantis said “Floridians can rest assured that our state will remain a leader in ballot integrity.”
Lawsuits from a variety of progressive organizations followed, nearly immediately. The battle in court was temporarily halted last week, when Judge Mark E. Walker wrote “For the most part, plaintiffs are right.”
Walker said the effects of SB 90 violated the Voting Rights Act, and spent 300 pages weighing the new law against Florida’s “grotesque” history of discrimination, and that over the last two decades, the state’s lawmakers have “repeatedly sought to make voting tougher for Black voters because of their propensity to favor Democratic candidates.”
In his ruling, Walker required a preclearance for any future voting laws in Florida over the next 10 years, meaning lawmakers would have to request federal approval before enacting new voting laws in the state.
On the bill’s anniversary of becoming law, the U.S. 11th District Court of Appeals granted the state’s motion to toss out the preclearance requirement, and said Walker’s injunctive relief provided to plaintiffs was “flawed.”
Citing precedent and and critiquing Walker’s long ruling, the Court focused on two flaws it found in his argumentation.
“We find the district court’s historical-background analysis to be problematic,” the Court wrote. “We have been clear that ‘old, outdated intentions of previous generations’ should not ‘taint [a state’s] legislative action forevermore on certain topics.'”
They also wrote that the previous ruling “failed to properly account for what might be called the presumption of legislative good faith,” which they say SCOTUS has “instructed” to be used when a court judges if a law or statute was “tainted by discriminatory intent.”
In this case, the higher court ruled that Walker did not even include the presumption of legislative good faith in his decision.
“While we do not require courts to incant magic words, it does not appear to us that the district court here meaningfully accounted for the presumption at all,” the Court wrote. “For instance, the court [Walker] imputed discriminatory intent to SB 90 based in part on one legislator’s observation, when asked about the law’s potentially disparate impact, that based on ‘the patterns of use’ some voters ‘may have to go about it a little different way’ once SB 90 becomes law.”
The 11th District’s ruling said that since Walker did not apply the presumption of good faith, as would be required, the court must assume the legislator’s statement that he based some of his argument was not fairly interpreted, leading to his claim of it being discriminatory in intent.
Reviewing the lower court’s determination that SB 90’s Solicitation Provision was both “unconstitutionally overbroad and vague,” the 11th District ruled instead that while it may be a “closer call” than the discrimination findings, the state of Florida had “met its burden to obtain a stay.”
As a result, the Court ruled “we conclude that the state is entitled to a stay pending appeal,” allowing SB 90 to take effect before the midterm elections in November.
In response, a representative from the lawsuit plaintiffs sent a reaction to the ruling, saying “We are deeply disappointed and disturbed by today’s appeals court decision, putting back in place one of the most restrictive voting rights laws in the country. Let’s be clear, this law undoes the progress that voting rights groups have made and targets the very tools minority communities, like ours, use to increase voter turnout,” and promising their organization and other plaintiffs would not be silent, and would “stand up” to discrimination.