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NC Court Grants Summary Judgment, finding that States’ Disenfranchisement Law Violates the State Constitution

September 4, 2020

Contact: Brittany Cheatham, bcheatham@forwardjustice.org

RALEIGH, N.C. – Today, a three-judge panel ruled that North Carolina’s felony disenfranchisement law violates two separate provisions of the state’s Constitution.  In granting Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, the Court determined that the state’s disenfranchisement law—which prevents citizens from voting until their “unconditional discharge” from probation, parole, or post-release supervision—violates both the Equal Protection Clause and the Constitution’s Ban on Property Qualifications because it conditions the right to vote on a person’s ability to pay fines, fees, and other debts associated with their previous felony conviction.  The Court further granted Plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction, allowing some voters to begin registering to vote immediately.  More details will come out shortly on the full scope of today’s decision.

The litigation is part of the broader ‘Unlock Our Vote’ Campaign, which aims to restore voting rights to nearly 60,000 people previously convicted of felonies, while simultaneously engaging the community through targeted voter education and registration efforts.

The ruling marks a major milestone in a campaign led by people directly impacted by the criminal legal system to regain their right to vote before the November election:

“This ruling is a major victory for the thousands of North Carolinians who have been denied access to the ballot due to an inability to pay financial obligations. We are thrilled that the judges took this important step in the right direction in the continued fight for voting rights and equality in our state. Our fight continues for the full expansion of voting rights for all of those who have been convicted of a felony and live in our communities, who deserve an equal say in our democracy.” said Dennis Gaddy, Executive Director of Community Success Initiative, a plaintiff organization in the case.

This lawsuit was filed on behalf of four individual North Carolinians, as well as several community groups who conduct voter registration and education, and work directly with people impacted by the criminal legal system: Community Success Initiative, the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, Justice Served NC, Inc, and Wash Away Unemployment. Forward Justice, Protect Democracy, and Arnold & Porter are representing the plaintiffs in the case.

Daryl V. Atkinson, Counsel and Co-Director of Forward Justice: “Today the court took a historic step in further expanding the ‘we’ in ‘we the people’. Thousands of people in North Carolina got their right to vote back in time for this historic election, and tens of thousands got clarity that their right to vote cannot be tethered to how much money you have in your bank. Our fight continues to end the unconstitutional disenfranchisement based on felony conviction in this state, and we will press forward until we achieve that victory for those whose voices should not be shut out from our democracy.”

“Today’s decision is a landmark victory in the fight for voting rights,” said Daniel Jacobson, an attorney at Arnold & Porter.  “The court recognized that no person’s fundamental right to vote can be made dependent on how much money they have.”

Farbod Faraji, Counsel for Protect Democracy, said: “As Michelle Alexander has written, we never ended the racial caste system in the United States; we merely redesigned it, which is a failure of our democratic ideals. The disenfranchisement of citizens on probation, parole, or post-release supervision has been a critical feature of that racial caste system, and it is long past time for it to end so the promise of democracy can be realized for all,” said Farbod Faraji, Counsel for Protect Democracy. “Today, a North Carolina court took a crucial step in the right direction and we look forward to going to trial." 

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