Court Tosses Florida Voter Registration Restriction. Yeah, Another One.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Campaigns With Senate Candidate Adam Laxalt In Nevada

(Photo by Ronda Churchill/Getty Images)

Now that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis broke up with Mickey Mouse, he celebrated the Fourth of July in his second favorite place: in a courtroom getting spanked by a federal judge.

The occasion of the latest paddling was a pair of modifications to Florida’s election law designed to “secure” elections by making it more difficult to register people to vote. To wit, the challenged provisions would bar non-citizens from participating in voter registration drives and impose criminal penalties and a possible $50,000 fine on registration organizations which retain information about the voters they sign up.

Sighing over “Florida’s latest assault on the right to vote,” Judge Mark Walker noted that “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,” he warned, appending an odd footnote on the definition of firewall, before dinging DeSantis’s oft-repeated boasts about the “freedom” washing over his state.

“The Free State of Florida is simply not free to exceed the bounds of the United States Constitution,” Judge Walker wrote.

As to the first provision, Florida argued that the court should read into it a qualifier written in invisible ink limiting enforcement to undocumented immigrants, and thus saving it from the strict scrutiny reserved for laws relating to national origin. Unsurprisingly, this reasoning failed to persuade the Obama appointee who regularly rules against the DeSantis administration. And the absence of a ban on non-citizens participating in any other aspect of elections save voter registration doomed the attempt to claim an exception under the “political function test” set out in Bernal v. Fainter, 467 U.S. 216 (1984).

The court similarly tossed the second provision as being void for vagueness.

“Here, the Florida Legislature has drafted a criminal statute that contemplates some individuals retaining some information for some undefined purpose. The penalties for running afoul of these illusory standards include arrest, prosecution, and ultimately a felony conviction,” Judge Walker wrote.

The attorney general vowed that the executive branch would somehow amend the bill to make it not illegal if the court would simply hold off on ruling.

But the court was not impressed by the promise to scribble notes in the margin of a legislatively enacted statute, perhaps by dint of an enforcement memo pinky swearing to only arrest bad guys.

“Simply put, neither the Department nor this Court is permitted to rewrite section 97.0575(7) to cure its vagueness,” Judge Walker scoffed, adding that “this indiscernible standard lends itself to arbitrary enforcement.”

Noting the holiday, the court finished with a paean to the patriotic American virtue of exercising the franchise:

Tomorrow, Floridians across the state will commemorate our Nation’s birthday. They will endure the heat of the Florida summer to celebrate the Fourth of July with family and friends at barbecues and picnics. They will gather with their communities at public parks for music and fireworks. They will cheer and sweat at parades and block parties. And amid these patriotic festivities, some may feel moved, for the first time, to embrace their solemn privilege as citizens by registering to vote.

In a land that professes deliverance of the “tired,” the “poor,” the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” [plaintiffs] encourage those who join us as citizens to also join in citizenship’s highest right and cardinal task: voting. We have “a Republic” only if we “keep it”; our government remains “of,” “by,” and “for the people” only if the people are heard. And to vote is to lift one’s voice and sing in our vast, clamoring chorus of democracy.

And then he shitcanned yet another DeSantis statute for being an un-American attack on democracy in service of him getting gutted like a fish in the Iowa primary.


Liz Dye lives in Baltimore where she writes about law and politics and appears on the Opening Arguments podcast.


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