(The Center Square) – Florida lawmakers passed a raft of controversial bills during the recently-concluded session knowing contentious legislation inevitably leads to litigation.
And so far, that presumption is panning out with lawsuits already lodged against three bills adopted by the Republican-dominated Legislature and already signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
A coalition, including the NAACP and Dream Defenders, on Tuesday filed a 62-page lawsuit in Tallahassee challenging Florida’s Combating Public Disorder Act, which went into effect when DeSantis signed the anti-riot measure on April 19.
“Because (a section of the law) confers discretion to law enforcement to arrest nonviolent protesters in close proximity to a violent outburst caused by others,” the lawsuit states, “would-be protesters have already been, and will continue to be, discouraged from participating in demonstrations for fear intents and actions of others may subject them to severe criminal penalties.”
The suit was filed by the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund (LDF), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida, Community Justice Protect and the national law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.
The NAACP suit is the second challenge to the anti-riot law. The Lawyers Matter Task Force, a civil rights nonprofit, filed legal action against the measure in Orlando federal district court on April 21.
Two suits have also lodged against Senate Bill 90, signed by DeSantis during a May 6 "Fox & Friends" broadcast.
That same day, the League of Women Voters of Florida (LWVF) filed a 69-page federal lawsuit in Tallahassee and the NAACP LDF filed a federal complaint in Orlando.
The NAACP LDF-led lawsuit is joined by Black Voters Matter Fund, Florida Alliance for Retired Americans and several individual voters. It claims SB 90 violates the federal Voting Rights Act, the 1st and 14th amendments and is voter suppression.
“SB 90 represents a direct and swift backlash to Black voters’ historic turnout during the 2020 election season,” LDF Assistant Counsel Zachery Morris said in a statement. “The law’s suppressive and discriminatory provisions make it clear the Florida Legislature’s goal is to erect additional hurdles to inhibit Florida voters, especially disabled voters, Black voters and Latino voters, from accessing the ballot box. These efforts are shameful and they are not new. We cannot allow elected officials to suppress votes under the guise of ‘election integrity.’”
SB 90 adds more identification requirements for requesting absentee ballots; requires voters request an absentee ballot for each election, every two years; limits who can collect and drop off ballots to prevent “ballot harvesting”; and expands the presence of partisan observers during the vote-counting process.
The bill prohibits outside groups from providing items “with the intent to influence” voters within a 150-foot radius of a polling location but, unlike Georgia’s law, allows poll workers to provide water and other assistance.
On May 8, the ACLU of Florida filed a federal lawsuit in Tallahassee seeking to strike down another bill – SB 1890, signed into law by DeSantis the day before – which caps donations to political committees backing proposed constitutional amendments at $3,000 during the signature-gathering process.
The 18-page lawsuit says the cap violates the 1st Amendment.
“Over the last several years, the Florida Legislature has passed dozens of bills to undermine the citizen initiative process,” ACLU attorney Nicholas Warren said in a statement. “Florida citizens’ right to participate directly in our democracy is protected by the Constitution, and yet, the Legislature and governor have made it their mission to make it even more difficult for Floridians to enact change. This latest attempt is a clear and obvious violation of Floridians’ free speech rights.”