Days after Attorney General Pam Bondi filed an appeal of District Judge Mark Walker’s ruling the Clemency Board must overhaul Florida’s voting rights restoration process for felons, Bondi and Gov. Rick Scott are unflinching in defense of their position.
District Judge Mark Walker last week gave the Clemency Board until April 26 to overhaul a restoration scheme that he calls “arbitrary.” Attorney General Pam Bondi says the appeal she filed this week on behalf of the board, which she sits on, is just another part of her job.
“This is my duty to the Constitution,” Bondi said. “When I put my hand on a bible, I swore to protect the Constitution of the State of Florida and our laws, and that’s what I’m doing. I am the legal counsel, so I’m not going to comment on this any further, but we will be appealing.”
Democratic Representative Sean Shaw is running for the Attorney General seat in the 2018 election. Responding to Bondi’s comment, he says he does not interpret the role in the same way Bondi does.
“She obviously disagrees with the ruling, so she feels it’s her duty to have to challenge it and to have to continue appealing it,” Shaw said. “You’re seeing how two different people would address the same issue. I don’t believe it’s the duty, the requirement of the attorney general to appeal a ruling that calls something Florida is doing unconstitutional.”
Meanwhile, Governor Rick Scott has maintained his support of the current system. As it stands, people with a felony must wait a mandatory five years before applying to be seen by the clemency board, which can take as long as 10 years in some cases. Scott says he has the best interest of victims in mind.
“I think elected officials ought to be making those decisions, not federal judges. If you stop and think about it, these are felons that we’re talking about, these are felons that could be murderers, some of them are going to be crimes against kids,” Scott said. “There’s a variety of individuals like this. So if you look at the clemency board, we look at a variety of things, we look at their domestic violence issues, we look at mortgage fraud issues, we look a variety of things because we want people to think about, how do we take care of the victims of these things?”
Democratic gubernatorial candidates are sounding off. Gwen Graham calls the appeal by the clemency board an attempt at “voter suppression.”
“The voter suppression that has gone on by this administration in particular – people are very aware of it. And I think it will be a significant issue. It’s an issue of allowing those men and women who have served their sentence to be active participants in their communities again and have the right to vote, which is the greatest right,” Graham said.
And Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who will face Graham in the democratic primary, likened Gov. Scott’s move to those of President Donald Trump.
“I believe that Gov. Scott’s actions, and Pam Bondi, are shameful. They go against who we are as a country, who we are as a state, of second chances – that’s not what the American dream is about. And I’ve got to tell you, I’m saddened. I don’t know if they did it on purpose. If they did, clearly it’s vindictive, and it’s cruel and it’s mean,” Levine said. “But then again, I guess – Gov. Scott is acting the same way his ‘BFF’ Donald Trump acts, in the same manner. And hopefully people remember this and on the ballot box in November, they will make their voices heard.”
Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, also vying for the democratic nomination, said the Clemency Board is QUOTE, “on the wrong side of history.” Chris King, the Orlando businessman also seeking the Democratic nod, tweeted the board’s appeal is an “unmitigated outrage.”
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who is running for governor on the Republican ticket, sits on the Clemency Board alongside Bondi and Scott. In a statement, he called District Judge Mark Walker’s ruling “unconstitutional” and “extreme.”
Speaker of the Florida House, Richard Corcoran, has yet to announce a run for governor. He has, however, received a preemptive endorsement from Congressman Matt Gaetz. In a statement, Corcoran backed the board’s appeal and criticized what he calls “activist judges” who attempt to rewrite laws.
Still, Judge Walker doesn’t intend to let the Clemency Board off easily. He filed an order denying their appeal the same day of its filing. Walker was matter-of-fact in his wording, writing:
“This Court does not play games. This Court is not going to sit on Defendants’ motion and run out the clock.”
Pam Bondi, though, says she and the board will take their appeal to the highest court necessary.
“We will appeal this to the highest level. Why? Because we have been following the law, we firmly believe it is the law in the State of Florida, and we plan on enforcing the laws,” Bondi said. “That’s what I do as chief legal officer of the State of Florida. So yes, we are appealing it, and we will appeal it to the highest court.”
Judge Walker appeared to poke fun at the board in his rebuttal ruling. Having given them only 30 days to overhaul the process, Walker says the board in their appeal “stamp their feet and wail” about Walker’s deadline, which they claim is unreasonable.