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SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today joined a coalition of 20 attorneys general in an amicus brief in support of a lawsuit challenging an unlawful and deeply flawed revision to Florida’s felon re-enfranchisement law. Following an earlier expansion of voting laws through a state Constitutional Amendment, the Florida Legislature then passed a new bill to prevent people who have successfully completed parole or probation from being able to vote if they are unable to pay remaining court fines, restitution, and fees. In the amicus brief, the coalition argues, in part, that restricting the right to vote of formerly incarcerated people runs counter to efforts to reintegrate them as productive members of their communities.
“If you’ve successfully served your time, then you deserve to have a fair shot at participating in our democracy,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Bottom line: your right to vote shouldn’t be determined by your net worth. There’s no place in our criminal justice system for punishing people more harshly just because they have less. We already know that being able to vote can have a significant impact on helping people reintegrate into society. It makes sense to support efforts that encourage civic participation. Here in California, we stand united in common cause to support those who are working to better themselves and their communities.”
The friend-of-the-court brief, filed before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, supports a lawsuit pushing back against an attempt to unlawfully curtail an amendment to Florida’s Constitution — approved by 64.5 percent of voters in 2018 — that extended the right to vote to formerly incarcerated individuals who have completed parole and probation. Simply put, the new requirement by the Florida Legislature punishes more harshly those who are genuinely unable to pay fines and fees than those who can. It withholds access to the ballot box based on wealth. In contrast, California does not require such restrictions upon the completion of probation and there are efforts under way in the state to further expand voting rights.
In the amicus brief, the coalition asserts that:
Attorney General Becerra is committed to improving public safety and the criminal justice system by advocating for reforms across the state and working with local authorities to implement new policies. In May, the Attorney General filed an amicus brief in support of a felon re-enfranchisement effort in North Carolina. Last month, he sent a letter — in support of a broader effort by state attorneys general — urging Congress to expand the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 to give state attorneys general clear statutory authority under federal law to investigate and resolve patterns or practices of unconstitutional policing. Last year, Attorney General Becerra secured an agreement with the Stockton Unified School District and its police department to address system-wide violations of the civil and constitutional rights of African American and Latino students, and students with disabilities. In 2018, the Attorney General filed an amicus brief before the California Supreme Court in opposition to unaffordable money bail.
In filing the brief, Attorney General Becerra joins the attorneys general of the District of Columbia, Illinois, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.
A copy of the amicus brief is available here.