A federal appeals court has upheld several provisions of a restrictive election law in Florida that was passed by the GOP-controlled legislature in 2021.
A divided panel of the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals reversed most of a ruling by a trial judge last year that said the provisions in question violated the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act by intentionally targeting Black voters.
US District Judge Mark Walker’s ruling, the appeals court said Thursday, was legally and factually flawed. The 11th Circuit also reversed a holding by Walker that would have required Florida to seek federal approval for any future election rule changes that are similar to the provisions he had struck down.
The 11th Circuit, however, did agree with the lower court that one of the challenged provisions of the 2021 law – which banned the “solicitation” of voters within 150 feet of a polling place – was unconstitutionally vague.
The provisions are part of a law known as SB 90, which was passed in 2021 and signed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, amid a slew of restrictive voting laws enacted across the country that were inspired, in part, by former President Donald Trump’s lies about mass election fraud in 2020.
Writing for the 11th Circuit panel majority, Circuit Judge William Pryor took issue with the trial judge’s conclusions that, by passing new election rules that targeted voters who tend to vote Democratic, the Florida Legislature was also targeting voters – and specifically voters of color – by race.
“To be sure, as the organizations point out, ‘[intentionally] targeting a particular race’s access to the franchise because its members vote for a particular party’ is impermissible,” Pryor wrote, referring to the voting rights groups that had challenged the provisions in court. “But we must be careful not to infer that racial targeting is, in fact, occurring based solely on evidence of partisanship. Evidence of race-based discrimination is necessary to establish a constitutional violation.”
Pryor – a George W. Bush appointee who is the chief judge of the appellate court – was joined in the majority opinion by Circuit Judge Britt Grant, who was appointed by Trump. Circuit Judge Jill Pryor, a Barack Obama appointee, dissented. She said that she agreed with Walker’s ruling that the provisions in question – which also included limits on the use of mail ballot drop boxes and additional requirements for third-party groups that run voter registration drives – were racially discriminatory.
Last year, a separate panel of the 11th Circuit put Walker’s ruling on hold, effectively reinstating the 2021 law for the midterm elections. The latest ruling sends the case back to the trial court for more proceedings.