The political kin of President Donald Trump are upset. Members of the Florida clan of the Trump political dynasty insist Amendment 4 backers lied to get voters to approve restoring voting rights for many former felons who complete the terms of their sentences.
Three Republican legislators made this serious allegation in a Sept. 12 opinion piece in the Sun Sentinel, a daily newspaper in South Florida. https://www.sun-sentinel.com/opinion/commentary/fl-op-com-amendment-4-backers-lied-felons-voting-rights-20190912-pbjud23cvvandg4adsbpbxf32e-story.html
The lawmakers shouted liar in a crowded courtroom of public opinion. They did their best to stir up an angry mob as state and federal judges prepare to rule on legal issues swirling around the implementation of Amendment 4.
Tossing red meat to the MAGA crowd takes up an entire chapter in the Trump political playbook. Lying hogs another whole chapter, if you believe The Washington Post fact-checker who has documented thousands of purported untruths told by our president.
The liar charge hurled at Amendment 4 supporters may not sway judges, but it suggests politicians are floating the idea now as a possible attack for 2020 campaigns.
My hunch got support after I read a Sept 20 article. It says a flurry of motions were filed with the Florida Supreme Court. The motions were filed because Gov. Ron DeSantis has asked the justices to provide an advisory opinion on the meaning of contested language in the new constitutional amendment. The article on the motions does not mention any allegations of lying.
Almost 65% of Sunshine State voters approved the constitutional amendment on Nov. 6, 2018. Supporters argue former felons, excluding those convicted of murder and felony sex crimes, get their voting rights restored upon completion of their sentences.
The Republican-controlled state Legislature, in a party-line vote, passed a law that decrees completion of a sentence includes repayment of fees, fines and restitution ordered by a judge. The law, signed in June by DeSantis, a Republican, generated a swift response. Several federal lawsuits were filed alleging the new law, SB 7066, discriminates against poor people and people of color.
The lawmakers-turned-opinion-writers appealed to the pitchfork crowd by citing the words of attorney Jon Mills. Mills addressed the Florida Supreme Court before the justices gave permission for Amendment 4 to appear on the ballot. He told the justices completion of a sentence included repayment of fees, fines and restitution. Mills was representing Amendment 4 advocates before the court.
It’s clear that Mills did tell Florida Supreme Court justices that fees, fines and restitution were part of the deal. An online report also links Mills to the start of “cash register justice” in Florida when he served in the Florida Legislature two decades ago. https://www.wlrn.org/post/co-author-and-attorney-floridas-amendment-4-helped-create-statewide-fines-and-fees-policy
Do these apparent facts mean Mills lied? Or is it possible he supported Amendment 4 but disagreed with some of his brethren on the repayment of fees, fines and restitution?
Mills is now a law professor at the University of Florida, where he serves as the director of the Center for Governmental Responsibility. He is not a party to the lawsuits challenging SB 7066.
I sent him an email on Sept. 16. I asked him if he lied. I have not gotten a response.
A day earlier, I wrote to MaryLynn Magar, the Speaker Pro Tem of the Florida House, Majority Leader Dane Eagle and Mike Grant, the Majority Whip. They wrote the Sun Sentinel essay alleging Amendment 4 backers lied.
I asked them for proof that Mills lied.
I also asked them for proof that Desmond Meade and Neil Volz lied. Meade and Volz lead the Florida Rights and Restoration Coalition. The FRRC helped bring Amendment 4 to the promised land; they led the charge to get it approved by voters.
Meade even campaigned for passage on a South Florida television station. About nine minutes into the interview, Meade said “Yes, yes” when journalist Jim DeFede asked him if repayment of fines and restitution were part of Amendment 4.
In their opinion piece, the Republican lawmakers went after FRRC, noting the organization’s website said completion of a sentence included repayment of fees, fines and restitution. But, the Republicans added, “That is until they deleted it from their website after being exposed.”
This assertion contains an element of truth. But I don’t think it proves Meade and Volz lied. Is it possible their position did not conform with other Amendment 4 backers? Does this make them liars?
Let’s say the lawsuits lead to a decision that determines linking repayment of fees, fines and restitution to voting rights is illegal or unconstitutional. Such a ruling would not mean Mills, Meade and Volz lied. It might mean, though, that they were wrong about their understanding of the law and constitution. It could also mean they meant what they said, and disagreed with other supporters of Amendment 4.
Some of those other Amendment 4 supporters have asked a federal judge to strike down SB 7066. So, I wrote to the ACLU National, ACLU of Florida, NACCP Legal Defense Fund and the Brennan Center for Justice. I asked if they had lied about Amendment 4. I have not heard back.
I don’t enjoy it when someone lies to me. That’s why I wrote to Magar, Eagle and Grant. We deserve more specific information about their inflammatory allegation. Do they have that information? Or are they taking target practice now to prepare for political battle next year?
The following line in their op-ed may give us a clue: “We, the law-abiding citizens of this great Republic don’t owe ex-felons anything.”
Damn right. Problem is, nobody said we do.