Judge Mark Walker and Gov. Rick Scott simply weren’t made for each other.
Walker, the federal judge who invalidated Florida’s right to vote scheme for felons as arbitrary and discriminatory, didn’t mince words in his landmark decision.
In a 43-page ruling, Walker called Scott’s logic on voting rights “nonsensical.” He used an assertion Scott made at one clemency board meeting — “We can do whatever we want” — to support his premise that Florida’s system is unconstitutionally arbitrary.
He made passing references to fine wine, Space Mountain and a favorite team, the Florida Gators.
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“A state cannot re-enfranchise only those felons who are more than six feet tall, who are blue-eyed, who were born in August, who root for the Florida Gators or who call heads during a coin flip,” Walker wrote.
Walker and Scott have crossed paths before. After Hurricane Matthew tore through Northeast Florida in 2016 and forced election offices to close, the judge sided with Democrats and extended a voter registration deadline by one day over Scott’s objections that the judge called “wholly irrational.”
Walker also has presided over a case in which he backed the Florida House’s use of subpoena power in an investigation of the state’s tourism marketing arm, Visit Florida, and a prominent vendor, Pat Roberts.
Peering down from the bench in black-rimmed Buddy Holly-style glasses, Walker interrupted lawyers in mid-sentence and called the House’s subpoena power a “1,000-pound gorilla.”
He made a dated pop music reference in discussing the separation of powers between the courts and the Legislature: “To quote MC Hammer, Judge, you can’t touch that.”
Walker, 50, a native of Winter Garden, received his undergraduate and law degrees at the University of Florida — making him a “Double Gator.”
His mom was a homemaker and his dad managed a Winn-Dixie, where Walker bagged groceries as a teenager.
His wife, Karen, is a partner at Holland & Knight, long one of the state’s most prominent law firms.
Walker clerked for two leading judges, former chief justice Stephen Grimes of the Florida Supreme Court and U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle. Those clerkships helped to convince him that he wanted to be a judge.
“I knew immediately this is ultimately what I wanted to do,” Walker told the Tallahassee Democrat in 2009. “Through them, you can see how important good judges are to the system.”
After working in private practice and as a public defender, he ran unopposed for circuit judge in Tallahassee in 2008. He wasn’t there long.
Walker was nominated to the federal bench in 2012 by both of Florida’s U.S. senators, Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Bill Nelson, and was confirmed, 94-0, at a time when many of President Barack Obama’s appointments were being blocked by Republicans.
“He is just the stereotypical person of who you would hope would be on the bench,” said Tallahassee lawyer Kelly Overstreet Johnson, a former Florida Bar president. “No agenda. Just very open-minded.”
She called Walker “exceedingly smart,” a family man with two daughters who’s universally well-liked.
“Very nice is just the word that comes to mind,” she said.
Contact Steve Bousquet at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @stevebousquet.