Gruver v. Barton (consolidated with Jones v. DeSantis)

Gruver, et al. v. Barton, et al

Date Filed: 06/02/2020

On May 28, 2019, Governor Ron DeSantis signed SB7066 into law. SB7066 requires that returning citizens pay all financial obligations specified within a sentencing document before registering to vote; disproportionately harming low-income and racial minority returning citizens based on the well-documented and understood racial disparities in Florida’s criminal justice system and Florida’s racial wealth gap.

Within a few hours of the bill’s signing, LDF, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Florida, and Brennan Center for Justice filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida. The lawsuit challenges certain portions of SB7066 on behalf of the Florida NAACP, the Orange County Branch of the NAACP, the League of Women Voters of Florida, and 10 individual Plaintiffs.

On February 19, 2020, a federal appeals court upheld a ruling blocking a Florida law that created wealth-based hurdles to voting and significantly curtailed Florida’s Voting Restoration Amendment, also known as Amendment 4, which sought to end lifetime disenfranchisement and automatically restore voting rights to 1.4 million Floridians.

The law would have disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of Florida voters by making the right to vote contingent on returning citizens’ ability to pay all legal financial obligations. On May 24, 2020, a federal court ruled that a Florida law that created wealth-based hurdles to voting was unconstitutional. The May 24 decision was blocked by the 11th Circuit. On August 4, 2020, LDF, with other groups, filed a brief urging a federal appeals court to uphold a decision that concluded a Florida law that created wealth-based hurdles to voting is unconstitutional.

On May 24, 2020, the federal district court issued a 125-page decision, based on a 10,000-page record, following an eight-day trial in the consolidated case Jones, et al. v. DeSantis, et al. Jones is a lawsuit challenging provisions within Senate Bill 7066 of 2019 (“SB7066”) that require people with felony convictions to pay “fines,” “fees,” “costs,” and/or “restitution” (collectively, legal financial obligations or “LFOs”) to vote. In the trial court decision, the court ruled that aspects of this “pay-to-vote system” are unconstitutional under the Fourteenth and Twenty-Fourth Amendments and violates the National Voter Registration Act (“NVRA”).

11/11/2020 UPDATE: In a devastating opinion, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reached a decision that permits Florida officials to require returning citizens to pay LFOs that arise from a felony convictions before they can register and vote. 

Until any subsequent appeals are resolved, we are sure that Florida residents have lingering questions about registering to vote and heading to the polls. To help, we have co-developed a resource with our partners to explain the Eleventh Circuit decision and what it means for the voting rights of people with felony convictions in Florida.

Please continue to check here for further updates.

Learn more about LDF’s voting rights work and political participation cases.