Federal judge strikes down several provisions of Florida election rules overhaul passed by Republicans last year

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker’s scathing 288-page opinion said some of the provisions in question were enacted to target “black voters because of their propensity to favor Democratic candidates.” If appealed, the drastic decision will be taken to a conservative appeals court.

Walker’s ruling also subjected Florida to a Voting Rights Act requirement that the state must seek federal approval for any future changes to election rules similar to the provisions the judge blocked on Thursday.

“It’s the legal equivalent of beating the table,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, said Thursday at a news conference. “And I think that was performative partisanship.”

“I think it’s going to be overturned on appeal,” he added, “the only question is how quickly.”

Officials from the secretary of state and attorney general’s offices did not immediately comment on the decision.

The measures that were reversed were part of a law known as SB 90, which was passed last year amid a slew of restrictive election laws across the country that were inspired, in part, by by former President Donald Trump’s lies about mass voter fraud in 2020.

Walker’s decision, however, tied the new restrictions to Florida’s history of discriminating against voters of color, as well as contemporary evidence that supporters of the 2021 measure knew it would weigh heavily. disproportionately on black voters.

“In summary, this Court finds that to the extent that the promotion of voter confidence or the prevention of voter fraud may have motivated the Legislative Assembly in part, this Court finds that the Legislative Assembly passed SB 90 with intent to restructure Florida’s electoral system so as to favor the Republican Party over the Democratic Party,” the judge said. “This Court further finds that, in order to advance the primary purpose of the legislature to favor Republicans versus Democrats, the Legislature enacted some of the provisions of SB 90 with the intention of targeting black voters because of their propensity to favor Democratic candidates.”

Specifically, the judge blocked provisions of the law reducing the availability of mail-in ballot boxes; its restrictions on providing aid like water, fans and snacks to those queuing to vote; and its stricter rules for voter registration drives. Walker said the provisions violated the Voting Rights Act, as well as the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution.

Walker went further by subjecting Florida to the Voting Rights Act provision known as preclearance, which requires some states to seek approval from a federal judge or the Department of Justice when they change their electoral rules. Over the next 10 years, under his ruling, the state will have to seek pre-approval for laws and regulations regarding voter registration drives, drop boxes, or so-called line-warming activities. .

“Without prior authorization, Florida could continue to enact such laws, replacing them with each legislative session if the courts view them with skepticism. Such a scheme mocks the rule of law,” Walker wrote.

Walker also linked the fight for suffrage to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“The current war in Ukraine, in which the Ukrainian people are fighting and dying to maintain the freedoms we take for granted, namely the right to have a voice and not be ruled by a despot, is a poignant reminder both the value and the fragility of democracy,” the judge wrote.

Amia Trigg, senior counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund – one of the groups that have challenged the Florida law – said Walker’s decision “recognizes that SB 90 is the latest stain in a long history of laws elections that restrict black political participation.”

CNN’s Fredreka Schouten, Steve Contorno and Marshall Cohen contributed to this story.