U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor has sent a letter to outgoing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, urging the Justice Department to conduct an inquiry related to civil rights restoration in Florida.
The state sees most non-violent offenders never regaining their civil rights and voting rights, due to multi-year and bureaucratic requirements imposed by the Florida Clemency Board, Castor said.
“I believe that in operation, Florida is violating the U.S. Constitution’s tenets of due process and equal protection,” the Tampa Democrat said in her letter. “Therefore, I respectfully request that the Justice Department conduct a thorough investigation into whether legal action is warranted against the state of Florida for its effective bar on civil rights restoration for non-violent offenders.”
In 2007, the Florida Clemency Board under then Gov. Charlie Crist voted to streamline the approval process for people with non-violent convictions, Castor said. However, in 2011, the board under Gov. Rick Scott reversed those rights restoration rules, and instituted highly restrictive policies. That year, the board restored civil rights to only 78 people, ignoring what the congresswoman says could be 600,000 who should be able to vote.
“Non-violent offenders who have completed their sentences and paid their debt to society should have full and equal access to exercise their voting rights,” Cantor said. “We must use all the tools and legal authorities at our disposal to fight against racial discrimination, to stand against disenfranchisement, and to safeguard the right of every eligible American to cast a ballot.”
Earlier this year, Castor joined the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP in calling on Scott and the clemency board to restore the voting rights of non-violence offenders who have paid fines and completed probation. In March, Castor sent a letter to Scott urging the change in policy.
The governor and board did not act, Castor said. In May, Holder reportedly advised Scott that the state’s action relating to voting rights would remain under scrutiny after Scott attempted to purge voter rolls in 2012.