By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) - Convicted felons must first complete any fees, restitution or fines they were ordered to pay as part of their sentence before they can vote, Florida's Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
The court said in its 37-page decision that "all terms of sentence” related to a felon's sentence includes not just their prison term, but all associated financial penalties as well.”
"We conclude that the phrase, when read and understood in context, plainly refers to obligations and includes all—not some—LFOs imposed in conjunction with an adjudication of guilt," the top court wrote in the ruling, using an acronym that refers to legal financial obligations.
The phrase at issue "encompasses not just durational periods but also all LFOs imposed in conjunction with an adjudication of guilt," it added.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis asked the court in August to weigh in on the matter after Floridians overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment allowing felons to regain their right to vote.
The measure, known as Amendment 4, allows most non-violent offenders to vote if they complete "all terms of sentence," the key phrase on which DeSantis sought a ruling.
The Republican governor lauded the decision, saying on Twitter he is "pleased that @FLCourts confirms that Amendment 4 requires fines, fees & restitution be paid to victims before their voting rights may be restored."
"Voting is a privilege that should not be taken lightly, and I am obligated to faithfully implement Amendment 4 as it is defined," he said.
But voting rights advocates panned the decision, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, which represents two felons in the case.
"A person’s lifetime participation in our democratic process cannot and should not be conditioned on their wealth," the center said on Twitter shortly after the ruling was announced.