Scoon elected president of the Florida League of Women Voters
The Panama City civil rights attorney is the first Black woman to lead the League
Cecile M. Scoon vowed to become a lawyer when she was a Harvard undergrad and the university trustees were using legalese to justify investing in Apartheid South Africa.
“I decided then and there that I’m never again going to have people that I disagree with try to cover up what they’re doing with a language that I don’t understand,” she said.
Her decision to go to the University of Virginia School of Law more than paid off June 5 when Scoon, a veteran Panama City civil rights attorney, became the first Black woman elected president of the Florida League of Women Voters.
The 101-year-old, non-partisan political organization is dedicated to “encouraging informed and active participation in government,” and often finds itself in court challenging a law or advocating for a citizen initiative.
“When we have legal issues, where we often have pro bono lawyers representing us, it’s a really good fit, because I understand what’s going on, and I often practice before the judges that get assigned to our cases,” she said.
In a statement issued at the League’s 38th biennial convention, Scoon noted that the organization wasn’t always welcoming to people of color.
“My election was a rejection of that troubling past and an embracement of diversity, equity, and inclusivity,” she said. “I love the League because it is primarily a group of powerful women standing up for the rights of all.”
Florida Bar members may recognize her as the owner and managing principal of Peters & Scoon Attorneys at Law, or as a member of the Solo and Small Firm Section. In January, when she was first vice president of the League, Scoon received the President’s Pro Bono Award, largely for her volunteer work helping returning citizens regain their right to vote.
Scoon was Action Chair on Amendment 4, the 2018 initiative overwhelmingly approved by voters that automatically restored a felons’ voting rights after they complete their sentences. A subsequent implementing bill required ex-felons to pay their fines and fees, but allowed ex-felons to petition the courts to modify their sentences. Scoon drafted a CLE course to teach attorneys how to work with felons and worked with a team of volunteers that conducted research and answered lawyers’ questions.
The League is currently mounting a legal challenge to new voting laws that sponsors promoted in the name of voter security, but critics contend are unnecessary and will disproportionately impact people of color.
But in the meantime, “we are a law-abiding organization and individuals, and we will comply with the law,” she said. “We’re going to work with citizens and let them know of the changes, and we face a big [challenge] with the education part.”
Scoon said she hopes to build on the League’s recent successes and ease its return to normal operations, including in-person voter registration drives at local community events.
“I’m presented with a real challenge and opportunity, so many organizations are coming off of the deep freeze of COVID-19,” she said. “It’s impacted the way we do business, and we’ve actually gotten quite creative.”
Scoon said she wants to keep her predecessor’s “Lunch and Learn” sessions, but also hopes to encourage members of the League’s 29 local chapters to strengthen their bonds with each other.
“When you actually know the person that you are working with on a particular issue, the trust factor increases and the creativity just flows,” she says. “We’re going to work on those kinds of relationships within each league, and then league to league.”
The second component, Scoon says, will be getting members to reach out to more communities, and become more involved in community activities.
“We are very concerned about the marginalized voter,” she said. “We started out as Suffragette women who couldn’t vote. We’re very thoughtful about groups that have been pushed aside.”
That kind of advocacy comes naturally to Scoon.
Before his death a few years ago, Scoon’s father, an attorney, worked with the Bureau of International Labor Affairs for the U.S. Department of Labor. One of his assignments was to represent the United States government in South Africa, where he worked with miners and mine owners, Scoon said.
“His deal was helping the miners and mine owners move toward a more equitable sharing of the resources,” she said.
Her mother grew up in a small town in Virginia under segregation, but never complained of the hardships, or when Scoon married a white man.
“My great grandfather taught slaves to read under the Emancipation Tree in Norfolk, Virginia, which is still there outside of Hampton,” she said. “The stories, what people had to do, the honor of being a leader in the civil rights movement in different ways, has run through both sides of my family.”
At 61, Scoon is old enough to have experienced the vestiges of segregation, but also spent her formative years in majority Black Antigua.
“A person who has had those kinds of experiences, and had that kind of history, when I look at going into different communities, I do bring a different perspective, from having been on the other side of the fence so to speak,” she says.