United States District Court, N.D. Florida, Tallahassee Division
ORDER DIRECTING ENTRY OF JUDGMENT
E. Walker, United States District Judge.
Court is not the Vote-Restoration Czar. It does not pick and
choose who may receive the right to vote and who may not. Nor
does it write the rules and regulations for the Executive
Clemency Board. Instead, this Court possesses the well-known
and unsurprising “province and duty . . . to say what
the law is.” Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1
Cranch) 137, 177 (1803). And this Court possesses the
unremarkable discretion to find a means for the Board to
comply with the law.
Order on Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment, this Court
applied longstanding precedent from the Supreme Court and the
Eleventh Circuit that invalidated unfettered-discretion
schemes to a novel context; namely, that of felon
re-enfranchisement. See generally ECF No. 144. And,
as it has done in the past, this Court invited the parties to
recommend appropriate remedial action. Defendants essentially
repackage the current scheme into proposed remedies
permitting the Governor and Board to do, as the Governor
described, “whatever we want” in denying voting
rights to hundreds of thousands of their constituents. ECF
No. 144, at 2 (citation omitted). This will not do. And
Defendants' proposed remedy to abandon the whole
vote-restoration scheme does not pass constitutional muster.
binding precedent spanning decades is to guide this Court-as
it must-then an injunction must ensue to prevent further
infringement. Florida's vote-restoration scheme can no
longer violate Plaintiffs' fundamental First Amendment
rights. Accordingly, as even Defendants acknowledge,
“this Court may direct the Board ‘to find a means
of bringing the [State's] scheme into compliance with
federal law.'” ECF No. 149, at 14 (quoting
Strahan v. Coxe, 127 F.3d 155, 170 (1st Cir. 1997)).
would have this Court restore the right to vote to any former
felon who has completed her whole sentence and a uniformly
imposed five- or seven-year waiting period. ECF No. 147, at
2-3. But such relief is beyond the scope of this Court's
authority. The people of Florida-either through ballot
initiatives or through their legislative acts-may cure any
perceived policy weaknesses with Florida's restoration
scheme. This Court's task today is to remedy
Florida's current scheme by cabining government
officials' unfettered discretion.
Defendants oppose any relief and claim the current scheme is
all sunshine and rainbows, they agree with Plaintiffs that
this Court may provide declaratory relief. See,
e.g., ECF No. 157, Ex. A (outlining Plaintiffs'
proposed declaratory relief), and ECF No. 158, at 15
(“Here, a declaratory judgment would provide an
adequate remedy for the specific concerns identified by the
Court.”). And this Court grants declaratory relief
consistent with its prior order.
parties disagree on the propriety and extent of injunctive
relief, which is the primary purpose of this Order. This
Court finds injunctive relief is appropriate to ensure that
Florida's vote-restoration scheme is no longer based on
succeed on a permanent injunction, Plaintiffs “must
satisfy a four-factor test.” Monsanto Co. v.
Geertson Seed Farms, 561 U.S. 139, 156 (2010) (internal
quotation marks omitted). Plaintiffs must show (1)
“irreparable injury”; (2) that “remedies
available at law, such as monetary damages, are inadequate to
compensate for that injury”; (3) that,
“considering the balance of hardships between the
plaintiff[s] and defendant[s], a remedy in equity is
warranted”; and (4) that the “public interest
would not be disserved by a permanent injunction.”
Id. at 156-57 (internal quotation marks omitted).
have satisfied the elements for a permanent injunction.
First, Plaintiffs have suffered an irreparable
injury. Their right to free association and right
to free expression were denied under a fatally flawed scheme
of unfettered discretion that was contaminated by the risk of
viewpoint discrimination. The Board will revisit some of
their decisions at some unknown future date-if at all-based
on nebulous criteria, such as the Governor's comfort
level. See, e.g., ECF No. 102, at 41. “[I]n
the unique context of first amendment challenges upon the
facial validity of licensing statutes, it is the very
existence of official discretion that gives rise to a threat
of injury sufficient to warrant an injunction.”
Miami Herald Publ'g Co. v. City of Hallandale,
734 F.2d 666, 674 n.4 (11th Cir. 1984). Plaintiffs, then,
have established “an imminent likelihood” that
their First Amendment rights to free association and free
expression “will be chilled or prevented
altogether.” Siegel v. LePore, 234 F.3d 1163,
1178 (11th Cir. 2000); see also Elrod v. Burns, 427
U.S. 347, 373 (1976) (“The loss of First Amendment
freedoms, for even minimal periods of time, unquestionably
constitutes irreparable injury.”).
because Plaintiffs suffered an irreparable harm, remedies at
law are inadequate. See Barrett v. Walker Cty. Sch.
Dist., 872 F.3d 1209, 1229 (11th Cir. 2017) (citing
Deerfield Med. Ctr. v. City of Deerfield Beach, 661
F.2d 328, 338 (5th Cir. Unit B Nov. 1981) (“An injury
is ‘irreparable' only if it cannot be undone
through monetary remedies.”)).
the balance of the hardships favors Plaintiffs. Defendants
need only redraft rules that align the vote-restoration
scheme within the boundaries of the law by cabining official
discretion and providing meaningful time constraints for the
Board's decision-making. Plaintiffs, meanwhile, are
deprived of a voice in directly choosing their elected
leaders. They are also deprived of associating with the
political party, if any, of their choice. Both are essential
First Amendment rights, as this Court described in its prior
order. ECF No. 144, at 9-17. Balancing the hardships between
protecting First Amendment rights and having a government
board that meets four times a year redraft their rules to
conform with the United States Constitution weighs
unsurprisingly in favor of the former.
Plaintiffs easily satisfy the fourth factor. “[T]he
public interest is always served in promoting First Amendment
values.” Suntrust Bank v. Houghton Mifflin
Co., 268 F.3d 1257, 1276 (11th Cir. 2001). There are few
greater interests than free association and free expression
to choose public officials to lead, to represent all people
in their jurisdictions, and to advance policy for the common
good. These interests are why Americans launched a revolution
against perceived unfettered discretion in the hands of one
high-ranking official, King George III.
question turns to the nature and extent of a permanent
injunction. “Injunctive relief against a state agency
or official must be no broader than necessary to remedy the
constitutional violation.” Knop v. Johnson,
977 F.2d 996, 1008 (6th Cir. 1992) (quoting Toussaint v.
McCarthy, 801 F.2d 1080, 1086 (9th Cir. 1986)). This
Court does not re-enfranchise otherwise eligible citizens.
This Court does not operate as a legislature. This Court is
not a fifth member of the Board, drafting specific rules and
regulations for it, unless it is forced to do
“Once a right and a violation have been shown, the
scope of a district court's equitable powers to remedy
past wrongs is broad, for breadth and flexibility are
inherent in equitable remedies.” Swann v.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Bd. of Educ., 402 U.S. 1, 15
this Court again recognizes the novelty of Plaintiffs'
claims,  this Court's permanent injunction does
not surface out of some swamp. Federal courts have regularly
held-including other circuits and the Supreme Court- that
cabining state officials' discretion so they may not
violate First Amendment rights is an appropriate task for
federal courts. See, e.g., City of Lakewood v.
Plain Dealer Publ'g Co., 486 U.S. 750, 757 (1988)
(listing a “long line of precedent” outlining the
Supreme Court's discomfort with government officials'
unfettered discretion over First Amendment rights);
Forsyth Cty. v. Nationalist Movement, 505 U.S. 123,
133 (1992) (“The First Amendment prohibits the vesting
of such unbridled discretion in a government
official.”); Gannett Satellite Info. Network, Inc.
v. Berger, 894 F.2d 61, 69 (3d Cir. 1990) (invalidating
scheme that “failed to establish any ...