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Florida judge blocks Republican-backed voting law as discriminatory

Florida judge blocks Republican-backed voting law as discriminatory

A federal judge in Florida on Thursday invalidated several of the state's new Republican-backed voting restrictions, ruling that they violate minority voters' constitutional rights.
U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee blocked the state from enforcing provisions aimed at reducing the use of drop boxes for ballots, making it more difficult for third-party organizations to collect voter registration forms, and banning groups from offering food, water and other aid to people waiting in line to vote.

Governor Ron DeSantis, who is running for reelection and is also considered a top Republican contender for the 2024 presidential election, signed the bill into law last year.

The legislation is among several sweeping voting restrictions passed by Republican-controlled states following Republican former President Donald Trump's baseless claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him.

In a 288-page opinion that followed a trial early this year, Walker said the legislation, known as Senate Bill 90, built upon two decades of discriminatory voting laws from the Florida legislature aimed at strengthening Republican power.

"For the past 20 years, the majority in the Florida Legislature has attacked the voting rights of its Black constituents," Walker wrote.

In response, state Senate President Wilton Simpson called the ruling "highly unprofessional, inaccurate and unbecoming of an officer of the court."

The Republican speaker of the state House of Representatives, Chris Sprowls, criticized Walker for making "unsupported inferences" and characterized the opinion as "a predetermined outcome in search of an overlong and poorly reasoned rationale."

A spokesperson for DeSantis did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The ruling is likely to be appealed to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is widely seen as a more conservative court. Walker was appointed to the bench by Democratic then-President Barack Obama.

Walker also criticized the U.S. Supreme Court for its 2013 decision weakening the Voting Rights Act (VRA), the federal civil rights legislation that protects minority voters from discrimination. That ruling struck down a key provision, known as preclearance, that required certain states with a history of racial discrimination to get federal approval to change voting laws.

As part of his decision, Walker said he would require preclearance for the next 10 years for any new law governing third-party voter registration groups, drop boxes or aid to voters waiting in line.

"This Court recognizes that the right to vote, and the VRA particularly, are under siege," Walker wrote.

The decision resolved four separate lawsuits filed by numerous civil rights and voting rights groups. Marc Elias, a Democratic lawyer who specializes in election cases, led the chief case, while the national Republican Party intervened as a third party.
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