Debevoise Files Amicus Brief in Fight Against Fee-Based Voting Eligibility

4 August 2020

Debevoise & Plimpton LLP has filed an amicus brief on behalf of 13 tax and constitutional law professors in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in the appeal concerning the rights of former felons to vote. The brief, filed in Jones v. DeSantis, argues that a Florida law known as SB7066, which requires the payment of certain fines and fees as a condition of restoration of the right to vote for former felons, is unconstitutional. The Florida state legislature enacted SB7066 to undermine the ballot initiative “Amendment 4,” which passed by a supermajority of the popular vote in 2018 and granted former felons the right to vote upon completion of their sentences.

In the brief, amici argue that the requirement imposed by SB7066 that individuals seeking re-enfranchisement pay certain fees is unconstitutional because the Twenty-Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits denying or abridging the right to vote “by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.” The brief argues that the term “other tax” should be read broadly to fulfill the Twenty-Fourth Amendment’s purpose. Under the approach advocated in the brief, it is clear that many fees imposed in Florida’s criminal justice system function as taxes, and it is therefore unconstitutional to condition re-enfranchisement on their payment.

The team was led by Debevoise partner David W. Rivkin and pro bono counsel Jennifer Cowan, and included counsel Samuel Duncan, and associates Elizabeth Costello, Samantha Singh, Mengfei Sun and Harold Williford.