A federal judge in Florida issued a preliminary injunction requiring the state bar to defend a measure that bars faculty attorneys from testifying in any election-related case, including the one pending in the state’s ongoing voter-identification battle.
Under the terms of the injunction approved Friday, the Florida bar has five days to file an emergency motion arguing against the state’s law, which passed with a 63-38 percent vote in August 2016, shortly after the US supreme court found that the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance requirements did not apply to states with a history of racial discrimination.
Since Florida had a history of obstructing the black vote, the supreme court ruling came as a major blow. Even before the ruling, the state was preparing for a battle over the case. The supreme court would have to determine whether Florida’s election law violates the Voting Rights Act.
Under Florida law, professors in the state bar cannot testify in election-related cases. The voter-identification measure in the state’s court system was passed by a narrow margin, garnering just 62.65 percent of the vote, including more than 100,000 votes by African Americans. The appeals court ruled in favor of the trial judge and the US supreme court agreed with that decision. The supreme court refused to issue an injunction, noting that the judge only granted a preliminary injunction.
Florida’s attack on voter-ID opponents won at the US supreme court. Now, the battle is moving into the trial court.
“It is very unusual for the judge to order a preliminary injunction in a case such as this,” said Philip Lott, a criminologist at George Mason University. “I’ve never seen it.”
Those favoring the policy hope that it will prevent inflammatory testimony and bias from election judges. Opponents of the law, including the American Civil Liberties Union and a slew of scholars, argue it is a racially motivated measure that burdens non-white voters who tend to lack proper identification to vote.
The Florida bar was formally challenged in a class-action lawsuit filed by the Democratic party in September 2016, but the bar’s primary role in the case is being played by Deirdre Macnab, a professor of political science and voting rights law at Nova Southeastern University in Florida. Macnab was included in the election process by a former US supreme court justice, who observed the referendum at a meeting of the lawyers’ society.