Federal judge ruled Florida's clemency process unconsitutional

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - A federal judge has ruled Florida's clemency process unconstitutional.

It's the latest in a growing conversation concerning a process which has led to a backlog of 10,000 ex-convicts waiting to get their rights back.

Florida changed its rights restoration process after Governor Rick Scott took office in 2011. It now requires felons to wait at least five years before applying. Then most must appear in person.

Only 400 or so cases are heard each year. The backlog is now more than 10,000. More than a million felons in the state are eligible to apply.

"That number increases by 50 plus thousand every year," said Human Rights Attorney Mark Schlakman.

Now, a federal judge says Florida's clemency process is unconstitutional, violating the 14th amendment.

In his ruling, Judge Mark Walker said felons rights have been locked away by the state, and the state has swallowed the key.

"It's a recognition that the numbers of people that have been able to regain their civil rights over the course of the past several years is so startlingly small that it prompted the court to act," said Schlakman.

The judge didn't recommend how to fix the system, instead, he asked the state and the nine ex-convicts who brought the lawsuit to come up with recommendations by the middle of the month.

The governor's office issued a statement, saying in part "the governor believes that convicted felons should show that they can lead a life free of crime and be accountable to their victims and our communities."

If approved, a constitutional amendment appearing on the November ballot will automatically restore felons' right to vote and end any legal fight.

"Ninety-five percent of the country agrees with this, but Florida is the outlier," said Desmond Meade with Floridians for Fair Democracy.

It would restore the rights of an estimated 1.3 million felons in the state.

The governor is expected to appeal the court's ruling.