ACLU Urges Florida Candidates to Clarify Position on Restoration of Civil Rights
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
TALLAHASSEE, FL — In a letter sent today to the two major party candidates for governor, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida urged Attorney General Charlie Crist and Congressman Jim Davis to clarify their position on the restoration of civil and voting rights to former felons. The ACLU is asking the candidates to make it clear that they will use the authority of the governor to make a change in the system of lifetime disfranchisement.
“A change in the Rules of Executive Clemency can be accomplished on the first day of your new administration. It is a change that you can bring to the lives of hundreds of thousands of Floridians by a vote of you, as the new Governor, and two other members of the Cabinet,” wrote ACLU Executive Director Howard Simon and ACLU Voting Rights Project Director Muslima Lewis in the letter.
Under the Florida Constitution, the loss of civil rights of individuals convicted of a felony goes beyond the right to vote, and includes such penalties as disqualification from almost 100 state occupational licenses. This wholesale disfranchisement of civil rights severely hinders the ability of men and women who have paid their debt to society to secure productive employment, thus increasing the chances of repeat offenses, said the ACLU.
Both candidates have publicly said they support the restoration of civil rights to former felons. However, the ACLU noted that the state legislature has been hostile to reforming the current system, and that the restoration of civil rights would require direct action from the governor.
“Anything other than exercising the authority of the Executive to modify the Rules of Executive Clemency to make the process virtually automatic would call into question the sincerity of your commitment to the restoration of civil rights,” Simon and Lewis wrote.
The full text of the ACLU letter to the gubernatorial candidates is below:
October 20, 2006
420 East Jefferson Street
Tallahassee, Florida 32301
P.O. Box 10399
Tampa, Florida 33679
Dear Attorney General Crist and Representative Davis,
We are heartened by the news that both of you are now on record supporting the automatic restoration of civil rights for those who have completed all the terms and conditions of their sentence.
We look forward, when a new Governor takes office in January, to measures that will address this overriding civil rights and voting rights crisis that has plagued our State – the mass disfranchisement of people with previous felony convictions.
As you know, under the Florida Constitution the restoration of civil rights involves more than the right to vote. The loss of civil rights also includes the disqualification from almost 100 state occupational licenses. This latter aspect of Florida public policy is especially inexplicable as it is inconsistent with the goals of reducing recidivism, ensuring the ability of those who are released to secure productive employment in order to support themselves and their families and in other ways facilitating the successful transition of former felons from incarceration. (The loss of civil rights also includes ineligibility to serve on a jury and to hold public office.)
We are aware that Congressman Davis has long supported the automatic restoration of civil rights, and we welcome the recent statement of Attorney General Crist that “If you truly do believe that if somebody has paid their debt to society, that they’ve really paid their debt to society, then why not restore their right to vote.” (Associated Press, October 17, 2006)
We also note that the same Associated Press story quotes Attorney General Crist as favoring the accomplishment of this goal by either amending the Florida Constitution or the Rules of Executive Clemency: “The process doesn’t concern me.”
The process is of great concern to us. If there was ever a situation in which “the devil is in the details,” this is it. We are very concerned about how this gets done, because the choice of strategy may determine not only how the restoration of civil rights is accomplished, but indeed whether it is accomplished.
We applaud your commitment to the change in public policy that aligns Florida with the majority of states that automatically restore civil and voting rights after the completion of a criminal sentence. But we strongly urge that you announce that you are prepared to address this problem by the exercise of what will be the authority one of you will have as our new Governor – that is, through the modification of the Rules of Executive Clemency.
A change in the Rules of Executive Clemency can be accomplished on the first day of your new administration. It is a change that you can bring to the lives of hundreds of thousands of Floridians by a vote of you, as the new Governor, and two other members of the Cabinet.
Of course, the modifications in the Rules of Executive Clemency should be reflected in the Florida Constitution. It is important that we bring our State’s Constitution into the 21st Century by amending it to remove the Civil War era provisions mandating the lifetime loss of civil rights upon conviction of a felony.
However, as a practical matter changing the Florida Constitution requires action by the Legislature (and, of course, a vote of the people). We are all aware of the Legislature’s record of support for the system that has created the mass disfranchisement problem with which our State is plagued and its resistance to a constitutional amendment to provide for the automatic restoration of civil rights.
Anything other than exercising the authority of the Executive to modify the Rules of Executive Clemency to make the process virtually automatic would call into question the sincerity of your commitment to the restoration of civil rights.
We urge that you make it clear to the voters of Florida that you are not only committed to addressing the injustice of the lifetime loss of civil rights, but that you are prepared to exercise the authority you will have as our new Governor to personally address this urgent matter.
Director, Voting & Racial Justice Project
American Civil Liberties Union of Florida
American Civil Liberties Union of Florida
cc: Mark Schlakman, Center for the Advancement of Human Rights at Florida State University
Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.
The latest in Smart Justice
The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.
Learn More About Smart Justice
The ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice is an unprecedented, multiyear effort to reduce the U.S. jail and prison population by 50% and to challenge racism in the criminal legal system.