The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and several other groups have notified Gov. Rick Scott and the state Cabinet that they have asked the United Nations Human Rights Committee to investigate restrictions which have been placed on the restoration of the civil rights of ex-felons, including the right to vote.
The groups are asking the international panel to include the subject during its March review of compliance by the United States with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It is a drastic embarrassing step but clearly one of the few remaining options in a state where a Republican-dominated Legislature has replaced its duty to broaden the democracy with narrow, selfish, partisan political considerations.
The ACLU has noted that, as of 2010, 1.5 million former felons or 10.5 percent of Florida’s voting population were barred from casting ballots because of obstacles placed in the restoration of their rights. Overall, only 94 ex-felons were granted their rights in the one-year period ending in March 2012, compared with 5,582 in 2010 and 24,375 in 2009.
The restrictions affect more than one in five blacks of voting age. That is significant, given the fact that, as a National Public Radio report noted last October, disenfranchisement was instituted in Florida in the 19th century “to keep newly freed slaves from voting, and remain on the books today.”
Much of the focus is on the right to vote but, as the ACLU notes on its website, without having his or her civil rights restored, a former felon is permanently barred from holding public office, serving on a jury and getting certain types of state occupational licenses. Only the governor and the Board of Executive Clemency is empowered to restore those rights.
That means one in five black Floridians is hampered in his or her pursuit of the American Dream even after serving time and paying their debts to society.
That is a terrible blot on the state’s reputation and it is one that screams for redress. Gov. Scott and Cabinet members should hang their heads in shame and then initiate immediate steps to move all these people into the mainstream by restoring their civil rights. It is the just and honorable thing to do.