Florida’s vote restoration process held unconstitutional

In a strongly-worded opinion, a federal judge has ruled that Florida’s method of restoring voting rights to individuals convicted of felonies violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.  In Hand v. Scott, a suit brought by seven individuals either denied restoration of rights by the State Clemency Board or ineligible to apply, U.S. District Judge Mark E. Walker held that Florida’s “arbitrary” and “crushingly restrictive” restoration scheme, in which “elected, partisan officials have extraordinary authority to grant or withhold the right to vote from hundreds of thousands of people without any constraints, guidelines, or standards,” violates rights of free speech and association, and risks viewpoint and other discrimination.

As reported in this local press article, Governor Scott’s office issued a statement late Thursday, hinting at an appeal.  Scott was the principal architect of the current system that requires all applicants for clemency to wait at least five years after they complete their sentences, serve probation and pay all restitution, before they may be considered for restoration of the vote and other civil rights.  Throughout his 43-page ruling, Judge Walker cited the arbitrariness of Florida’s system, noting that people have been denied their voting rights because they received speeding tickets or failed to pay child support.

Scott and the Cabinet, meeting as a clemency board, consider cases four times a year, and usually fewer than 100 cases each time. It can take a decade or longer for a case to be heard, and at present the state has a backlog of more than 10,000 cases. Scott imposed the restrictions in 2011, soon after he was elected, with the support of three fellow Republicans who serve on the Cabinet, including Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, now a leading candidate for governor. Scott’s actions in 2011 reversed a policy under which many felons, not including murderers and sex offenders, had their rights restored without application process and hearings. That streamlined process was instituted in 2007 by former Gov. Charlie Crist, then a Republican and now a Democratic member of Congress.

The context in which the case was decided is described in this NPR article.  Last month, Florida elections officials approved a November ballot measure that would automatically restore voting rights to people convicted of felonies who have completed their sentences, with exceptions for murder and serious sex offenses.

California follows federal lead in limiting employment screening

A new California regulation took effect last week that puts employers on notice that adverse action based on criminal history may violate state law prohibitions on racial discrimination.  The regulation closely tracks a 2012 guidance issued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which asserts that consideration of criminal history by employers violates Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act when it adversely impacts racial minorities and is not job-related or consistent with business necessity.

The California regulation adopts, in broad terms, the same position and standards put forth in the EEOC guidance, but applies them to the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), which prohibits employment discrimination on grounds that are substantially similar to those enumerated in Title VII.  Like the EEOC guidance, the new FEHA regulation sets forth a number of factors used to determine whether a particular practice is job-related and consistent with business necessity, including whether it takes into account “the nature and gravity of the offense,” “the time that has passed since the offense,” and “the nature of the job held or sought.”

The fact that the regulation was promulgated by the state’s Department of Fair Housing and Employment, which may sue to enforce the FEHA, may give California employers that have not already conformed their practices to the EEOC guidance an incentive to do so. Moreover, the new regulation ought to make it easier for individuals to challenge criminal history screening practices by giving them a clear basis for action under California law.

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Sex offender passport law survives challenge

anchor_service_passportA federal judge in San Francisco has dismissed a constitutional challenge to the recently enacted International Megan’s Law, which requires specially-marked passports for registered sex offenders whose offenses involved child victims, and authorizes notification to foreign governments when they travel.  The so-called “Scarlet Letter” law is specifically aimed at stopping child sex trafficking and sex tourism, and this purpose was evidently enough to justify it even though it has a far broader effect.

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Challenge to “Scarlet Letter” travel law moves forward

passportLast week a federal judge heard the first arguments in a lawsuit challenging certain provisions of the recently-enacted International Megan’s Law (IML),* including one mandating that the passport of any American required to register for a sex offense involving a minor be marked in “a conspicuous location” with a “unique identifier” of their sex offender status.  Other challenged provisions of the law authorize the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice to notify destination nations of forthcoming visits from those individuals. On Wednesday the court heard a motion for a preliminary injunction that would block enforcement of the challenged provisions of the law pending the suit’s final outcome. See Doe v. Kerry, Case 3:16-cv-00654 (N.D. Ca.).

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