Filed Date: Nov. 20, 2019
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On November 20, 2019, the Community Success Initiative, Justice Served N.C., and the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP filed suit against the Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, the North Carolina Board of Elections ("N.C. Board of Elections"), and other relevant state officials in North Carolina's Wake County Superior Court, challenging a requirement that people with previous felony convictions complete probation or post-release supervision and pay all court fines and fees to be eligible to vote. On November 20, 2019, Wash Away Unemployment NC and six individuals with previous felony convictions seeking to vote in North Carolina joined as plaintiffs.
North Carolina's felony disenfranchisement statute N.C.G.S. § 13-1 provided that people convicted of a felony will not have their right to vote restored until they have been unconditionally discharged. In practice, this meant that people convicted of felonies who completed their prison sentence or were never sentenced to prison were unable to vote until the completion of their post-supervision release, probation period, or the payment of all fines and fees associated with their sentence. Plaintiffs alleged that these requirements infringed the North Carolina Constitution's Free Elections clause, Equal Protection clause, Freedom of Speech and Assembly clauses, and ban on property qualifications.
Community Success Initiative, Justice Served N.C., and Wash Away Employment N.C. are non-partisan, non-profit organizations that assist formerly incarcerated people with reintegrating into society. These organizations diverted resources to educating and assisting their clients with registering to vote under North Carolina's felony-based disenfranchisement law. The North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP is also a non-partisan, non-profit organization that works to improve the political, social, educational, and economic status of minority groups. As part of this mission, the NAACP registers African American and people of color voters, the North Carolina NAACP diverted resources to education about and assisting potential voters in North Carolina understand the state's felony-based disenfranchisement laws. The six individual plaintiffs were North Carolinians convicted of felonies who served their incarceration time but remained unable to vote due to post-release supervision and probation. But for the felony-based disenfranchisement laws, these individual plaintiffs would have participated in North Carolina elections. Defendants, sued in their official capacities, include Timothy K. Moore, Speaker of the N.C. House of Representatives, Philip E. Berger, President Pro Tempore of the N.C. Senate, Damon Circosta, Chair of the N.C. State Board of Elections, Stella Anderson, Secretary of the N.C. State Board of Elections, Ken Raymon, Jeff Carmon III, and David C. Black, members of the N.C. State Board of Elections, and the N.C. State Board of Elections.
Plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgment or in the alternative a preliminary injunction on May 11, 2020. On September 4, 2020, after amicus briefs from numerous civil rights organizations and other states, the majority of the three-judge panel consisting of Superior Court Judges Lisa C. Bell, Keith O. Gregory, and John M. Dunlow granted a preliminary injunction enjoining the application of the statute to people convicted of felonies on probation who were unable to register due to outstanding monetary obligations. Thereafter, the N.C. Board of Elections permitted people convicted of felonies to register if their probation had been extended for no reason other than failure to pay monetary obligations. Then, on August 27, 2021, the three-judge panel amended the preliminary injunction to prevent Defendants from denying voter registration to any convicted felon on community supervision (probation, post-release supervision, or parole).
The Defendants filed a motion for stay and appeal of the amended preliminary injunction on August 21, 2021. Then, on September 3, 2021, in response to the amended PI, the Defendants filed a petition for writ of supersedeas, writ of certiorari, and motion for temporary stay in the North Carolina Court of Appeals. In effect, Defendants sought to prevent the trial court's decisions in the case from taking effect and instead to delay any change to the felony disenfranchisement law until after the Court of Appeals and/or the N.C. Supreme Court reviewed the case. Defendants argued that the amended preliminary injunction impermissibly changed election law before a decision on the merits of the case and on the eve of an election. On the same day, the N.C. Court of Appeals granted the stay of the amended injunction. The N.C. Supreme Court upheld the stay on September 10, 2021, but only prospectively so that people convicted of felonies who registered under the amended injunction before the stay were allowed to remain registered and vote.
On March 28, 2022, after a bench trial before the three-judge panel in Wake County Superior Court, Judges Bell and Gregory issued a final judgment and order with Judge Dunlow dissenting. The Court held that the denial of franchise to convicted felons on parole, post-release supervision, or probation violates the N.C Constitution's Equal Protection Clause, Free Elections Clause, and fails strict scrutiny as § 13-1 does not advance even an important government interest much less a compelling one. The Court permanently enjoined Defendants from preventing a person convicted of a felony from registering to vote due to probation, post-release supervision, or parole.
On April 26, 2022, the N.C. Court of Appeals, in response to the defendants August and September appeals, issued an order staying the trial court's March 2022 judgment and left in place the original September 2020 injunction that allowed people convicted of felonies who remained on probation solely because they had not paid all their outstanding fines to register for the May 17 and June 26 primary elections. After these primaries, the full March 2022 trial court judgment took effect. As of October 7, 2022, the trial court's judgment is in effect and pending a decision on the merits in the N.C. Supreme Court.
Anna Lennon (10/7/2022)
Last updated Aug. 30, 2023, 2:26 p.m.Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.
State / Territory: North Carolina
Filing Date: Nov. 20, 2019
Case Ongoing: Yes
People convicted of felonies unable to register to vote or vote in North Carolina due to on-going probation or post-release supervision status, and organizations assisting formerly incarcerated people.
Public Interest Lawyer: Yes
Filed Pro Se: No
Class Action Sought: No
Class Action Outcome: Not sought
Causes of Action:
Prevailing Party: Plaintiff
Nature of Relief:
Source of Relief:
Order Duration: 2022 - None