A North Carolina court on Monday ruled that a law barring felons from voting until after they complete parole or probation was unconstitutional and restored voting rights to more than 50,000 people, The Washington Post reports.
The state Superior Court handed down the 2-1 decision on Monday, which Daryl Atkinson, the co-director of civil rights group Forward Justice, called “the largest expansion of voting rights in this state since the 1965 Voting Rights Act.”
A court previously ruled that a provision requiring felons to pay all fines that are part of their sentence was unconstitutional because it based a person’s ability to vote based on their financial situation.
A three-judge panel ruled this week that the law was unconstitutional.
Republican lawmakers vowed to appeal the ruling.
Lawsuit argued law “weaponized” against Black people:
The lawsuit brought by Atkinson and others argued that the law had been “weaponized to prevent Black people from voting after the Civil War in an effort to stifle their political power,” The Post reported.
The plaintiffs argued that many ex-felons were disenfranchised because of an inability to pay court fees. The law also impacted felons placed under community supervision without imprisonment who remain barred from voting despite paying taxes.
The North Carolina NAACP, the Community Success Initiative, and several people on probation and parole were among the plaintiffs.
“Starting today, if a person can just say, ‘I am not in jail or prison for a felony conviction,’ then that person can register and they can vote freely,” said attorney Stanton Jones.
GOP denies law is racist:
The plaintiffs argued that the law “overwhelmingly” affects Black people, who make up 20% of the state's eligible voters and 40% of those impacted by the law.
The defense attorneys did not dispute the numbers but argued that they were caused by disparities in the criminal justice system rather than the law.
Orlando Rodriguez, a lawyer for Republican lawmakers, said they would not defend the law’s “shameful” history but argued that it has been improved after being revised in the 70s.
He argued that while the law previously imposed a heavy burden on people seeking to have their voting rights restored, that process is now automatic when a sentence is completed.
State Sen. Warren Daniel vowed to “immediately” appeal the ruling.
“These judges may think they’re doing the right thing by rewriting laws as they see fit (without bothering to even explain their ruling), but each one of these power grabs chips away at the notion that the people, through their legislature, make laws,” he said in a statement to The Washington Post.