Three Trump judges on the Eleventh Circuit let Florida’s latest voter suppression law stay in effect pending an appeal. They stayed a lower court ruling that had found the provisions of SB90 to be intentionally discriminatory, and which had ordered Florida to have future voting changes cleared by the Justice Department or the courts before going into effect. The May 2022 case is League of Women Voters of Florida v. Florida Secretary of State.
What had the lower court done?
In March, federal district court Judge Mark Walker blocked several provisions of Florida’s 2021 voter suppression law from going into effect. As the New York Times reported at the time:
The ruling targets the portions of the law that limited the use of drop boxes, placed strict rules on voter-registration organizations and forbade some kinds of assistance to Floridians waiting in line to vote. Judge Walker’s order blocks Florida from making changes to those three functions for 10 years without federal sign-off.
Judge Walker concluded that the racial impact was not just incidental. He carefully examined two decades’ worth of voting laws in the state and noted a consistent pattern:
At some point, when the Florida Legislature passes law after law disproportionately burdening Black voters, this Court can no longer accept that the effect is incidental … [I]n the past 20 years, Florida has repeatedly sought to make voting tougher for Black voters because of their propensity to favor Democratic candidates.
What did the Eleventh Circuit do?
Unfortunately – and predictably – this ruling did not survive its first brush against the Trump judges of the Eleventh Circuit, a panel consisting of Kevin Newsom, Barbara Lagoa, and Andrew Brasher.
The panel ruled that Judge Walker’s ruling had come too close to the state’s primary elections. Under a Supreme Court doctrine called the “Purcell principle,” courts should be reluctant to change a state’s electoral process close to an election, because that could confuse voters. Although Judge Walker’s decision came nearly five months before Florida’s primary, the Trump panel ruled that it was close enough to trigger Purcell. After all, they stated, Florida “has a compelling interest in preserving the integrity of its election process.”
The panel also disagreed with the lower court’s conclusion that Florida’s discrimination was intentional. The Trump judges criticized Judge Walker for including Florida’s history of racism in his analysis instead of focusing narrowly on the process of passing the specific bill at issue. They also faulted the lower court for not giving the Florida legislature a presumption that it had acted in “good faith.”
It is highly unlikely that the current 6-3 far-right majority on the Supreme Court will step in to protect the people of Florida, so these laws will remain in effect. The decision of the Eleventh Circuit was limited to whether to stay the lower court opinion pending the circuit court’s consideration of the state’s appeal. So the Eleventh Circuit still has to fully consider the case. But its decision today shows a predictable hostility to protecting Black people’s right to vote.
The Far Right in Florida is doing everything they can to keep people from voting them out of power. Our courts exist to prevent such a sabotage of democracy. And that is why the Far Right worked so hard to get like-minded judges on our courts when Donald Trump was president – and why they are working now to keep qualified Biden nominees off the courts.