Federal Court Grants Preliminary Injunction on Parts of Newly Passed Florida Election Law

Federal Court Grants Preliminary Injunction on Parts of Newly Passed Florida Election Law
Voters wait in line to cast their vote at the Covered Bridge Condominiums in Lake Worth, Fla., on Nov. 3, 2020. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Parts of Florida’s new election law as they pertain to non-U.S. citizens and third-party voter registration groups were blocked by a federal court judge on July 3 after voting rights groups filed a lawsuit.

In his 58-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker issued a preliminary injunction on SB 7050, which was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican in May, arguing that Florida “is simply not free to exceed the boundaries of the United States Constitution.”

Under the legislation, non-U.S. citizens are barred from registering citizens to vote in the state while third-party voter registration organizations could also face a fine of up to $50,000 for each non-citizen who “collects or “handles” voter registration forms on the organization’s behalf.

Prior to engaging in any voter registration activities, third-party voter registration organizations must also register with the state and provide officials with the names of the officers of the organization, its address, and the names and addresses of each registration agent who is registering citizens to vote in the state on behalf of the organization.

They must also deliver all voter registration forms within 10 days after the application is made or risk a fine of up to $50 for every day over the deadline.

DeSantis—who is running for president in 2024—and other Republican leaders in the state had argued in part that the legislation was needed to bolster election security.

After the bill was signed into law, voting and immigrant rights advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), ACLU of Florida, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, Dēmos, and other organizations and individuals filed a lawsuit.

Ron DeSantis
Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during the Moms for Liberty Joyful Warriors national summit at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown in Philadelphia on June 30, 2023. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Bill ‘Burdens Political Speech’

In their lawsuit (pdf), plaintiffs had argued that the bill was “harsh, unnecessary,” and placed “irrational restrictions on community-based voter registration speech and activity,” in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments and federal civil rights statutes.

They further argued that the new Florida law “unconstitutionally burdens and chills their core political speech and associational rights, diminishing their efforts—and the efforts of other individuals and community-based groups—to encourage civic engagement and democratic participation by assisting Florida citizens in registering and exercising their fundamental right to vote.”

Plaintiffs sought a preliminary injunction against the law being enforced while litigation plays out, claiming the legislation “unconstitutionally discriminates against them on the basis of their citizenship status.”

In his ruling on Monday, Judge Walker, an Obama appointee, stated that the ban on non-U.S. citizens from registering citizens to vote is “discriminating based on alienage” while the provision pertaining to third-party voter registration organizations violates the U.S. Constitution.

“Florida may, of course, regulate elections, including the voter registration process,” the judge wrote. “Here, however, the challenged provisions exemplify something Florida has struggled with in recent years; namely, governing within the bounds set by the United States Constitution. When state government power threatens to spread beyond constitutional bounds and reduce individual rights to ashes, the federal judiciary stands as a firewall. The Free State of Florida is simply not free to exceed the bounds of the United States Constitution.”

“Based on the evidence they submitted in support of their motions, Plaintiffs’ organizations are driven to serve their communities, connect with Floridians—particularly some of the most marginalized citizens in our state—about the importance of voting, and properly register as many new voters as possible,” the judge continued. “Were it not for the $50,000 penalty for each noncitizen who violates the citizenship requirement and Defendants’ authority to penalize 3PVROs [third-party voter registration organizations] for such violations, the individual Plaintiffs would continue collecting or handling voter registration applications on behalf of the 3PVROs for which they work.”

Late Election Applications an Issue

The judge further noted that removing the $50,000 fine, the threat of the cancellation of the third-party voter group’s registrations, and additional civil enforcement by the Attorney General would “directly redress Plaintiffs’ injuries.”

“In other words, they could continue the voter registration work that they have been hired to do, without fear of Defendants penalizing their organizations with devastating fines, automatic cancellation of their registrations, and other civil enforcement actions,” the judge concluded in the preliminary injunction.

During a previous hearing on the matter, Mohammad Jazil, an attorney who represents the DeSantis administration, cited concerns about voter registration applications being handed in late to elections officials, CBS News reports.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, in 2022, the Department of State, which oversees elections, fined nine voter registration groups a total of $41,600 for failing to turn in 3,077 applications to an election supervisor on time.

Attorney Jazil told the judge that non-U.S. citizens, such as foreign students or those with temporary legal immigration status, “are not bound to the community” and thus could be at risk for not giving the applications in on time.

Ultimately, Walker rejected the argument in Monday’s ruling.

In a statement following the ruling, Daniel Tilley, legal director at the ACLU of Florida called the judge’s decision a step in the right direction but cautioned that there was still further work to be done.

“People in our communities, including noncitizens, work tirelessly to assist in voter registration efforts to empower Floridians to vote on issues that impact their daily lives. We applaud the court’s decision, but we must ensure this harmful law is struck down altogether,” Tilley said.

The Epoch Times contacted Jazil for further comment.

From The Epoch Times

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