Judge declares Florida voting limits unconstitutional|Plus: Alex Jones and Anti-abortion blockade

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Voting Rights

A federal judge in Florida barred the state from enacting major parts of last year’s strict election law, finding it to be unconstitutional and racially motivated.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill 90 into law in May 2021, outlawing unsolicited mail ballots, limiting mail ballot requests, requiring a driver’s license or social security number to vote by mail, curtailing drop boxes, and banning the delivery of food or water to voters in line.

District Judge Mark Walker, an Obama appointee, issued a 288-page order (pdf) decimating the Florida law on Thursday. The plaintiffs “allege that SB 90 runs roughshod over the right to vote, unnecessarily making voting harder for all eligible Floridians, unduly burdening disabled voters, and intentionally targeting minority voters — all to improve the electoral prospects of the party in power,” Walker wrote. “Having reviewed all the evidence, this Court finds that, for the most part, Plaintiffs are right.”

In sum, this Court concludes that to the extent promoting voter confidence or preventing voter fraud may have motivated the Legislature in part, this Court finds that the Legislature passed SB 90 with the intent to restructure Florida’s election system in ways that favor the Republican Party over the Democratic Party. This Court further finds that, to advance the Legislature’s main goal of favoring Republicans over Democrats, the Legislature enacted some of SB 90’s provisions with the intent to target Black voters because of their propensity to favor Democratic candidates.

The judge castigated other courts, including the US Supreme Court, for placing the right to vote “under siege” by “gutting” the Voting Rights Act. Walker concludes that any changes to drop boxes, third-party voter registration organizations, and giving voters in line aid will be subject to federal preclearance for the next ten years. Preclearance requires that federal courts sign off on changes to state election laws.

In sum, without preclearance, Florida can pass unconstitutional restrictions like the registration disclaimer with impunity. Litigation takes time; here, it has taken a year. And so, before litigation can run its course, the Legislature can merely change the law—as it has done here. The result is that Floridians have been forced to live under a law that violates their rights on multiple fronts for over a year. Without preclearance, Florida could continue to enact such laws, replacing them every legislative session if courts view them with skepticism. Such a scheme makes a mockery of the rule of law.

Under any metric, preclearance is needed.

Alex Jones

Infowars host Alex Jones reportedly plans on appealing a contempt of court ruling over his failure to comply with a deposition in a case related to the Sandy Hook school shooting of 2012.

Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis announced Jones is being held in contempt on Wednesday after he “intentionally failed to comply with orders of the court” to sit for a deposition on two separate occasions (pdf). Until he complies, Jones will have to pay fines that will start at $25,000 a day on April 1 and increase by $25,000 each business day.

With respect to the issue of contempt, the Court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant, Alex Jones, willfully and in bad faith violated without justification several clear Court orders requiring his attendance at his depositions on March 23rd and March 24th. That is, the Court finds that Mr. Jones intentionally failed to comply with the orders of the Court and that there was no adequate factual basis to explain his failures to obey the orders of the Court.

The case, filed by parents of children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, centers on allegedly defaming statements made by Jones that the shooting was “completely fake” and a “giant hoax” meant to limit the Second Amendment.

Anti-abortion blockade

The Department of Justice announced on Wednesday that a federal grand jury indicted nine individuals with conspiracy against civil rights and Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE) violations for blockading a D.C. reproductive health care clinic in 2020.

The nine—Lauren Handy, 28, and Jonathan Darnel, 40, of Virginia; Jay Smith, 32, and John Hinshaw, 67, and William Goodman, 52, of New York; Joan Bell, 73, of New Jersey; Paulette Harlow, 73, Jean Marshall, 72, of Massachusetts; and Heather Idoni, 61, of Michigan— allegedly traveled from across the country, pushed their way inside the health clinic, and prevented patients from entering the building (pdf). Darnel broadcast the blockade on Facebook, claiming “(T)he rescuers are doing their job. They’re not allowing women to enter the abortion clinic. As long as they’re in there, no women can go in to kill their children.”

Handy, the Director of Activism for an organization called the “Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising,” allegedly played a leading role in the blockade. A day after being indicted, police officers received a tip about biohazard material at her house. Upon investigation, officers found the remains of five fetuses. It is not known how or why the fetuses came to be in her house.