Multiple amicus curiae briefs have been filed in support of Plaintiffs in the Community Success Initiative, et. al., v. Moore case in Wake County Superior Court, regarding the restoration of voting rights for individuals currently on probation or post-release supervision for a felony conviction in North Carolina. Parties or organizations may file a brief as amicus curiae to participate in the argument of a case in which they are not a litigant. Together, these amicus briefs provide compelling evidence to the court in support of the immediate restoration of voting rights for individuals on probation and/or post-release supervision due to a felony conviction. The following briefs have been filed.
The collaborative brief filed by The Sentencing Project, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and Southern Poverty Law Center critically examines the racial disparities within the North Carolina criminal justice system. The brief cites clear evidence of the disproportionate effects on Black communities at every stage of the criminal justice system, including in policing, stops and arrests, prosecution and pretrial detention, sentencing, and the subsequent impacts on disenfranchisement. Amici explain, “the racial inequities in charging and sentencing subject Blacks to disproportionately longer prison terms, lengthening the period of time before which, under Section 13-1, they can be eligible for the restoration of their voting rights” (p. 14). Alongside disproportionately longer prison terms, the brief argues that the racial disparities in income and economic opportunity that Black Americans face outside of the criminal justice system further deter their re-enfranchisement and inevitably prolong restoration of citizenship rights. Amici additionally highlight shifts in re-enfranchisement policies in other states, to demonstrate how policy shifts towards the restoration of voting rights for people with felonies can significantly improve the likelihood of successful reentry and decrease recidivism. The brief concludes that, “Due to the racial disparities inherent in the criminal justice system and in the economic position of Black Americans, they are more likely to be disenfranchised, and disenfranchised for longer, by North Carolina’s disenfranchisement system. And because that system contributes to the suppression of Black economic advancement and deprives Blacks of the political voice necessary to correct the inequities that perpetuate their economic disadvantage, North Carolina’s system of disenfranchisement serves only to continue the subjugation of Blacks in North Carolina. It must therefore be declared unconstitutional” (p. 22).
The Institute for Innovation in Prosecution at John Jay College (“IIP”) argues in its amicus brief that, despite the North Carolina General Assembly’s recognition that successful reentry is contingent on an effective rehabilitation process and should enhance community safety, North Carolina continues to uphold a disenfranchisement law that undermines these previously described objectives of the state. IIP argues that disenfranchisement disrupts the integration of formerly-incarcerated individuals back into society, as it “colors not only the perceptions of the person who cannot vote, but also the perceptions of her fellow community members. Being disenfranchised imposes a stigma: When the law treats someone as unworthy of casting a vote—unworthy of having a say in how society is governed—her community will treat her as something less than a true member” (p. 5). Their brief also demonstrates that by creating “a permanent criminal underclass of outcasts”, disenfranchisement laws harm public safety and “increase[s] the chance that a person— alienated from and stigmatized by his community—will commit another crime” (p. 6). By upholding a disenfranchisement system that threatens public safety rather than protects it, felony disenfranchisement laws create additional hardship on families and communities that actually discourages civic participation. “When families and communities feel unfit to participate in the political process, they experience weak social bonds and an increased likelihood of anti-social behavior. Disenfranchising the head of a household discourages civic participation for the entire family. That effect is especially pronounced for children because a child’s decision to vote depends on what she has seen her parents do” (p.10).
The North Carolina Justice Center and Down Home NC argue in their amicus brief that prosecuting those who vote while on felony probation or post-release supervision has a chilling effect on the African-American community as a whole. This brief shows that “before any prosecution under the felony disenfranchisement scheme becomes a data point, it is first a personal tragedy” (p. 3). These personal tragedies stem from the fact that most people who vote while on probation or post-release supervision do not know that they are doing something illegal. Amici explain that most people prosecuted for voting while under community supervision truly believe that they have the right to vote, and when they get charged with another felony for doing so, it leaves the individual and the community as a whole scared to vote ever again. The stories of those who were prosecuted for voting, while being unaware that they were not allowed to vote, travel around a community quickly. Many times, those who are eligible to vote are scared into not exercising their right because “to them, the risk of voting is not worth any risk of receiving another conviction…even though they are now eligible.” (p. 6). Furthermore, the NC Justice Center and Down Home NC state that disenfranchisement laws are unduly harsh and suppress the African-American vote the most by instilling fear. Ultimately, felony disenfranchisement laws do not protect the integrity of the voting process, rather they serve as an intimidation tactic that ultimately discourages the African-American community from exercising their civil right.
Finally, a collective state brief filed by the District of Columbia, California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Nevada (collectively, “Amici States”) highlights the positive impacts documented in States that have already restored the right to vote for those who were previously disenfranchised due to felony convictions. According to the Amici States, studies show that States that have restored individuals’ right to vote improved their overall public safety, decreased the rate of recidivism, and increased minority voting. Studies also show that "eligible and registered African American voters were nearly 12 percent less likely to cast ballots if they lived in states with lifetime disenfranchisement policies” (p. 14). The brief argues that “there is little evidence that extended disenfranchisement promotes any of the traditional goals of the criminal justice system” (p. 15). Felony disenfranchisement does not protect the integrity of the election, deter criminal behavior, or create a less confusing system. Rather, “denying returning citizens the ability to participate in the political process only further isolates and segregates ex-felons re-entering society” (p. 17). Furthermore, the confusion about returning citizens’ voting rights has chilling effects on many eligible voters because misinformation on who can and cannot vote “creates a lasting ripple of de facto disenfranchisement across [the] community” (p. 26). This brief concludes that North Carolina’s felony disenfranchisement law does more harm to the community than good, does not further any compelling governmental interest, and deters minority communities from voting when they are eligible.