By VICTOR SKINNER
THE CENTER SQUARE CONTRIBUTOR
(The Center Square) — Plaintiffs in a case challenging North Carolina’s felon voting law have submitted opening arguments to the state Supreme Court, alleging the law is racist because it disproportionately impacts Black people.
Plaintiffs in Community Success Initiative v. Moore wrote in an opening brief Wednesday that a 1973 law that requires felons to complete post release probation or parole to regain their voting rights “continues to achieve its intended discriminatory effects today.”
“Statewide, African Americans in North Carolina are disenfranchised at nearly three times the rate of the White population due to (the law’s) felony supervision rule. In one county, a full 5% of the African American voting-age population is denied the franchise due to felony supervision,” wrote Daryl Atkinson, attorney with Forward Justice representing the plaintiffs.
The opening arguments come after more than 56,000 North Carolina felons regained the right to vote on July 27 through a recent appeals court ruling. A three-judge panel with the North Carolina Court of Appeals split 2-1 in April to lift a ban preventing felons on parole or probation from voting that was imposed by the state Supreme Court last year.
Republican lawmakers defending the law sought an en banc hearing by the full 15-member appeals court, but the plaintiffs successfully petitioned the Supreme Court to take over the case.
Plaintiffs want the Supreme Court to confirm a trial court order that states “if a person otherwise eligible to vote is not in jail or prison for a felony conviction, they may lawfully register to vote in North Carolina.”
Community Success Initiative alleges that preventing felons from voting upon release from prison violates the state constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and Free Elections Clause, and that the law was written with a racist intent.
“North Carolina elections under (the 1973 law) do not accurately reflect the will of the people where the vote margin in statewide and local elections is often less than the number of people who are disenfranchised in the state or respective local area as a result of the statute,” Mr. Atkinson wrote. “This Court should affirm the trial court’s conclusion that (the law’s) denial of the franchise to people on felony supervision violates both the North Carolina Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and its Free Elections Clause.”
A separate friend-of-the-court brief filed by 14 Democrat-led states and the District of Columbia argues that “felon enfranchisement serves governmental interests in promoting civic participation and improving public safety, while felon disenfranchisement laws do not promote criminal justice goals and are administratively burdensome.”
Republican leaders in the General Assembly have countered the alleged racist motivations of the 1973 law by pointing out it was sponsored by Democrats with the backing of three black lawmakers and the NAACP.
In July, attorney Nicole Moss, attorney for legislative leaders, presented arguments that cited provisions of the North Carolina Constitution that disenfranchises convicted felons and stipulates they must be “restored the rights of citizenship in a manner prescribed by law.”
Doing away with the 1973 law would, therefore, eliminate any possibility of re-enfranchisement, Ms. Moss wrote.
Lawmakers now have the opportunity to respond to plaintiffs’ opening arguments before the case moves to the next phase of oral arguments, The Carolina Journal reports.