4 judges on Trump's Supreme Court short list just issued a major voting rights opinion that could sway the November electionSeptember 11, 2020
- A federal appeals court on Friday issued an opinion in a major Florida voting rights case that legal insiders say could potentially tip the scales of the November presidential contest.
- Four of those judges are on President Donald Trump’s short list for Supreme Court nominees, should a vacancy arise. One of them, Florida Judge Barbara Lagoa, joined that list earlier this week.
- The other two judges who sided with the majority are Trump appointees. The four dissenting judges are Democratic appointees.
- This case could be one of the nation’s most consequential election lawsuits. Nearly 800,000 votes in Florida — a critical swing state — could be impacted.
- ‘Folks familiar with Florida know that there’s often very, very close elections in Florida, both local and statewide,’ said Julie Ebenstein, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.
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Four judges on President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee short list were among those who issued an opinion Friday in a voting rights case that could potentially tilt the outcome of the November presidential election.
A federal appeals court upheld Florida's requirements that ex-felons must pay off their outstanding debts before their voting rights are restored. Civil and voting rights groups contend that the requirement amounts to an unconstitutional poll tax.
The majority ruling in the 200-page opinion was written by William Pryor, the chief judge of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, and joined in part by judges Kevin Newsom, Elizabeth Branch, Britt Grant, Robert Luck, and Barbara Lagoa. Trump appointed all of those judges to the federal appeals court, with the exception of Pryor, who was appointed by President George W. Bush.
Trump has said he's considering four of those judges — Pryor, Newsom, Grant, and Lagoa — for the Supreme Court, should he win reelection and another court vacancy arise. He added Lagoa to his existing roster just this week.
Trump skeptics view the move as an attempt to drum up conservative enthusiasm heading into the November presidential election.
'Don't really have any standard for what's normal'
The four judges who dissented from the majority opinion were all Democratic appointees; three were put on the court by President Barack Obama, the other was nominated by President Bill Clinton.
It's not surprising to legal insiders that some of the many high-powered judges Trump has included on his short list are involved in consequential Election 2020 decisions. But it does intensify scrutiny over their decisions, particularly with just weeks remaining before Election Day.
Trump broke political norms when he first published his list of Supreme Court prospects during his 2016 presidential campaign; he doubled down this week with his latest list.
Trump has also prodded Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden to release his own list of Supreme Court nominees. Biden hasn't yet done so, but Democrats have plenty of ideas for the former vice president.
"It's not usual for a presidential candidate to actually name lists of potential nominees, so we don't really have any standard for what's normal for the people on the list, what's not normal for the people on the list," said Jonathan Adler, a professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Law.
Hundreds of thousands of voters affected
The legal fight in the Florida felons case may not be over; the decision could be appealed. The US Supreme Court, which includes two Trump appointees in Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, could ultimately weigh in.
Justices, however, would likely be reluctant to weigh in on a hot-button political issue in the weeks ahead of the election. At least four justices must agree to review an appeals court ruling.
Voting rights advocates assailed the ruling Friday by the appeals court, which oversees cases in the southeastern United States.
"With mere days before many Floridians begin voting in a historic general election, the Eleventh Circuit today put forward a dangerously misguided decision that throws hundreds of thousands of Floridians into confusion about their sacred right to vote," said Nancy Abudu, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The decision stands to impact hundreds of thousands of Florida voters. That's a huge quantity in a critical swing state that boasts 29 electoral votes — only California, and Texas have more — and where elections are often decided by the slimmest of margins. (Remember that 537 bitterly contested votes in the 2000 contest between George W. Bush and Al Gore effectively decided who became president).
A report from a University of Florida professor said that nearly 775,000 people with felony convictions were rendered ineligible to vote in Florida because of the state's restrictions, Politico reported.
Central to the fight is a 2018 constitutional amendment approved by Florida voters that restored voting rights to some ex-felons. The GOP-led Florida Legislature passed a bill that requires ex-felons to pay fines and fees before their voting rights were restored, but many can't afford to do so.
"These are folks who Florida voters determined should be a part of the electorate and their vote would be important even if it weren't a presidential election, even if it didn't have potential national consequences," Julie Ebenstein, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who argued against the voting restrictions for felons, told Insider in an interview Friday.
"Folks familiar with Florida know that there's often very, very close elections in Florida, both local and statewide," she added. "Certainly whether an additional nearly 1 million people are added to the electorate or not could very well turn the election."
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