A lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s strict liability voter prosecution law — criminalizing voting by people with a felony conviction if they are ineligible, even if unintentional — will be allowed to continue according to a court order released Monday from a federal judge.
Judge Loretta Biggs, of the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, adopted a magistrate judge’s earlier ruling denying the N.C. District Attorneys’ Motion to Dismiss the case and allowing organizations like the North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute, Inc. (NC APRI) and Action NC to continue their legal challenge of the law. Voting rights advocates at NC APRI and Action NC, who engage in robust voter registration efforts, say the law represents the last surviving vestige of post-Reconstruction measures meant to disenfranchise Black people and impede their efforts to help North Carolinians access the ballot. The case, North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute et al. v. North Carolina State Board of Elections, now heads to the discovery phase.
Mitchell Brown, Voting Rights Counsel with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, the group representing NC APRI and Action NC, responded to the ruling, saying it brings the groups “one step closer to justice.”
Today’s ruling brings us one step closer to justice for people who have, for too long, been criminalized for just casting a ballot.—Mitchell Brown, Southern Coalition for Social Justice
“This nearly 150-year-old Jim Crow law forces North Carolina voters and advocates alike to interpret a complex web of state election laws and criminal codes. The law leaves everyone from parole officers to poll workers to justice-involved people unclear about the process of re-enfranchisement and without due process to vote,” said Brown. “Today’s ruling brings us one step closer to justice for people who have, for too long, been criminalized for just casting a ballot.”
Judge Biggs’ order follows an earlier three-judge panel’s preliminary injunction in a state court case, Community Success Initiative (CSI) v. Moore, expanding voting rights for North Carolinians serving felony-based community supervision, most of whom are Black. The North Carolina Supreme Court later ordered these same people to be barred from voting until further action is taken by the court, except for anyone serving a felony sentence on community supervision who registered to vote while a court order was in place expanding the eligibility rules (from August 23 to September 3, 2021).
The Southern Coalition for Social Justice, founded in 2007, partners with communities of color and economically disadvantaged communities in the South to defend and advance their political, social, and economic rights through the combination of legal advocacy, research, organizing, and communications. Learn more at southerncoalition.org and follow our work on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.