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Federal judge mulls blocking portions of Florida's latest election law

'I think a lot of folks are in limbo,' Cesar Ruiz, an attorney with Latino Justice, says
Posted at 6:00 PM, Jun 28, 2023

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A federal judge is considering whether to pause portions of Florida's new election law, set to take effect on Saturday.

For more than three hours, U.S. District Judge Mark E. Walker heard arguments in an injunction hearing largely focused on the law's non-citizen provisions. Approved earlier this year in SB 7050, the law fines third-party voter registration groups $50,000 for each non-citizen, including permanent residents, who "collect" or "handle" voter registration forms on the organization's behalf.

Plaintiffs, a collection of immigrant and voter advocacy groups, consider that discrimination. They believe the law violates the First and 14th Amendments. Attorneys warned, without an injunction, the new rules would chill political speech and shutter organizations relying on non-citizen volunteers and staff.

"This law would essentially put their whole workforces at risk," Adriel I. Cepeda Derieux, an attorney with the ACLU, said.

Cesar Ruiz, an attorney with Latino Justice, said third-party registration groups he represents are weighing what to do when the law begins. Some may scale back or freeze operations —kneecapping efforts to engage marginalized people.

"I think a lot of folks are in limbo," Ruiz said. "We struggle to advise them one way or another because we know the impact this law is going to have on July 1. I can tell you right now it's a wait-and-see approach until we get verification on what kind of impact this will have on our clients."

Attorneys for the state declined to comment after the hearing, but in the courtroom, they argued Florida was well within its rights to make the changes. Their provisions Republican backers told us were for voter integrity during the lawmaking session.

"Confidence amongst Floridians is at an all-time high in the way that we conduct our elections," state Rep. Lawrence McClure, R-Plant City, said in April. He helped shepherd the bill in the House.

"But that doesn't mean you stop working on it," McClure said.

Walker, an appointee of President Barack Obama, will now have the final say on the injunction. He has previously scolded Florida's GOP over recent election laws, considering reforms in 2021 discriminatory.

Walker said he'd have a decision on the injunction of the new policy as quickly as possible, though he cautioned it would likely take him longer than four days to draft an order.