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Legal showdown over felons' voting rights set for July in Atlanta

A federal appeals court has tentatively scheduled oral arguments for late July in a closely-watched constitutional battle over Florida's system for restoring the voting rights of felons.

The News Service of Florida reports that the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to hear arguments the week of July 23, though an online docket does not yet list a specific date.

The appeals court has issued accelerated deadlines for both sides to file briefs. The court received the case after U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee declared Florida's 150-year-old clemency system to be unconstitutional.

An estimated 1.5 million Floridians are permanently disenfranchised by the state's voting rights restoration system for felons.

Gov. Rick Scott and members of the Cabinet, who comprise the four-member clemency board, have defended the current rights restoration process under which felons cannot petition the state for their voting rights until at least five years after they complete their sentences.

Walker ordered Scott and the Cabinet to enact new clemency rules by April 26, but the state won a partial victory on the evening of April 25, when a three-judge panel of the Atlanta court voted 2-1 to delay the effect of Walker's injunction.