Last week, lawyers for Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Secretary of State Kurt Browning responded to the case brought in federal court with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, which seeks to block the implementation of a sweeping set of changes to state elections laws.
The state’s lawyers argue the judge should not block the implementation of the law, and that the case should be dismissed, because, among other things:
- The state has already submitted the changes in House Bill 1355 to the U.S. Department of Justice for approval under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
- Most of Florida’s counties (62 out of 67), as well as the state itself, are not covered under Section 5.
- The changes are not being enforced in the five counties — Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough, and Monroe — that are covered under Section 5.
Scott and Browning also contend that a State Department legal opinion from the administration of Gov. Lawton Chiles, which held that a new election law could not be implemented anywhere in the state until it had been precleared for the five covered counties, was issued under different circumstances (more on that here).
At that time, the state was gearing up for a statewide election, and different voting conditions in different parts of the state would have led to chaos and confusion. In this case, none of the five counties is expected to hold an election until October, by which time the Justice Department is expected to have finished reviewing the changes.
The ACLU responded in a filing Monday that some of the changes are having an effect statewide, including in those five counties. For example, the League of Women Voters of Florida has suspended its voter registration activities, which League President Dierdre Macnab said in a sworn statement would be going on year-round all over the state if the new law weren’t in effect.
ACLU spokesman Derek Newton emailed reporters yesterday, noting that the ACLU’s response “is the final filing required in the case before a decision can be made on the request for an injunction by the federal court. With this filing, a decision is expected at any time.”
Regardless of the outcome, this is likely to be but one chapter in the legal saga surrounding House Bill 1355. This lawsuit, filed earlier this month, seeks to block implementation until the changes have been approved by the Justice Department, and does not deal directly with the merits of the new law.
Some documents from the case are below. Here is Browning and Scott’s motion to dismiss the case:
Here’s their response to the ACLU’s motion for an injunction suspending the law (in which they argue that such a motion is not warranted):
Here’s the ACLU’s reply to their response:
And here’s Macnab’s statement: