U.S. District Judge Mark Walker wrote a decision striking down parts of an election integrity bill passed by the Florida Legislature and signed into law by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) last year. The provisions that were struck down were the parts that limited the use of ballot drop boxes to voting hours and requiring a third party to issue a warning to potential voters that their registration application might not be turned in before the voter registration deadline or within the required 14 days.
The plaintiffs, including the League of Women Voters, have argued that “SB 90 runs roughshod over the right to vote, unnecessarily making voting harder for all eligible Floridians, unduly burdening disabled voters, and intentionally targeting minority voters – all to improve the electoral prospects of the party in power,” wrote Walker’s assessment of the plaintiffs’ arguments.
Based on the evidence provided to Walker, “this Court finds that, for the most part, Plaintiffs are right,” he said.
A number of self-described “civil rights” groups lauded Walker’s ruling saying SB 90 is, in fact, discriminatory.
“Judge Walker’s ruling reflects the reality of SB 90: it is a deliberately anti-democratic law meant to create obstacles for Black and brown Americans to vote in our democracy,” said Kira Romero-Craft, director of Legal Strategies, Demos. “It’s no coincidence that Florida enacted legislation that made it harder to vote by mail and for third-party organizations to facilitate voter registration immediately after an election with record turnout among voters of color.”
Notable Republican officials in Florida were “appalled” at Walker’s ruling and description of Florida’s lawmakers. Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls (R-Palm Harbor) inferred that Walker’s ruling was predetermined “in search of an overlong and poorly reasoned rationale.”
“The illogical leaps and unsupported inferences in Judge Walker’s opinion amount to a 288-page accusation of discriminatory intent based on limited analysis of data he thinks the Legislature might have had, the uncritical and complete acceptance of the comments of Democratic lawmakers, and a total disregard for other viewpoints. … Judge Walker’s premise — that the Legislature and Governor may only amend election laws if they are requested by Supervisors of Election or supported by the Democratic Party — demonstrate that this opinion was a predetermined outcome in search of an overlong and poorly reasoned rationale.”
Similarly, Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson (R-Spring Hill) called Walker’s description of Florida’s state senators “unprofessional.”
“Judge Walker’s comments about duly elected Florida Senators are appalling. This order is highly unprofessional, inaccurate, and unbecoming of an officer of the court. The Florida Senate looks forward to continuing to advocate for fair, free, transparent, and secure elections for all.”
One of Walker’s assessments that Simpson subtly references takes place on pages 87-88 in the decision and alleges that Florida State Senator Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) has racist tendencies and Walker used that as part of his decision.
“In a similar vein, this Court heard testimony that, throughout his career, Senator Baxley has ‘stopped a bill from being further considered which would have established a slavery memorial’ because he did not want to ‘celebrate defeat,’ fought to keep the racial epithet, ‘darkie,’ in the state song, ‘opposed a bill that would ban the display of Confederate flags on state and local government property,’ and ‘opposed a bill to replace a … statue of [Confederate] General Edmund Kirby Smith with one of Mary McLeod Bethune, Black educator and civil rights worker.’ Because Senator Baxley sponsored SB 90, this evidence has some marginal relevance. But Senator Baxley is one of 40 senators. And just as with Senators Boyd and Hutson’s statements, Senator Baxley’s deeply troubling statements and actions cannot tell this Court much about the Legislature’s motivations.”
In a footnote provided by Walker on page 88 related to Baxley, Walker said, “One would have hoped that, as a funeral director, Senator Baxley would have recognized that it’s time to put the Confederacy to rest.”
Baxley, by trade, is a funeral director and former President Barack Obama appointed Walker to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida in 2012.
Despite Walker’s attempts to paint SB 90 as racially based, a 2012 grand jury report in an election fraud case in Miami-Dade County recommended many of the provisions in the Florida law.
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Grant Holcomb is a reporter at The Florida Capital Star and The Star News Network. Follow Grant on Twitter and direct message tips.
Photo “Ron DeSantis” by Gage Skidmore. CC BY-SA 2.0. Background Photo “Voting Booths” by Tim Evanson. CC BY-SA 2.0.