N.C. Court of Appeals stays lower court ruling which expanded voting rights for people with felony convictions

Dennis Gaddy, the founder and Executive Director of Community Success Initiative, was denied his right to vote for seven years because of a felony conviction. A lawsuit filed this week to restore the voting rights of others in similar positions is personal, he said at a press conference in 2019. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

A three-judge panel of the North Carolina Court of Appeals stayed an injunctive order that effectively restored voting rights to 56,000 North Carolinians with a felony conviction but while on parole, probation and post-release supervision.

As Policy Watch previously reported, a three-judge panel of the lower court heard the case, filed by advocacy organizations against State House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger Sr. in Wake County Superior Court.

That three-judge panel granted injunctive relief while the case is pending, saying that plaintiffs are likely to succeed on their claim that disenfranchisement laws are rooted in racial discrimination.

Republican legislative leaders lambasted Attorney General Josh Stein for not appealing immediately after the oral ruling last Monday. Berger and Moore sent a letter informing Stein’s office that Stein was “fired” and that they were seeking outside counsel. Berger and Moore appealed the decision the day the written order was entered, but were denied the request to vacate the order by the same Superior Court judges. They then sought the stay from the Court of Appeals. Court of Appeals cases are usually heard by a panel of three judges.

The state Court of Appeals ruled in favor of legislative defendants without hearing any oral argument.

Plaintiffs are now appealing to the state Supreme Court, where Democrats hold a 4-3 advantage.

”This case is a matter of statewide and national significance, requiring immediate action from the state’s highest Court,” the plaintiffs said in a press release. “Hundreds of North Carolinians are exercising a new right to vote in this state, encouraged and inspired by the three judge panel decision — we will not rest until their rights are fully vindicated. ”

A press release from Berger’s office said the stay preserves the 1973 law regulating voting rights passed by Democrats.

The press release quoted Sen. Warren Daniel, R-Burke, as saying: “This law, passed by a Democrat-led legislature 50 years ago, provides a path for felons to regain voting rights. If a judge prefers a different path to regaining those rights, then he or she should run for the General Assembly and propose that path. Judges aren’t supposed to be oligarchs who issue whatever decrees they think best.”

In a previous interview, Dennis Gaddy, the founder of Community Success Initiative and a lead plaintiff in the case, said Black legislators wanted to do exactly what the plaintiffs asked for in the 1970s. “But it was stymied by the legislature and that was because they wanted to include probation and parole as part of the sentence,” he said.

The North Carolina State Board of Elections modified the voter registration forms the day of the oral ruling announcement and urged county boards to permit affected individuals to vote. However, following the stay, it reverted back to the original form used before the injunction with the a line that states: “You must not be currently serving a felony sentence, including any probation, post-release supervision, or parole OR you are serving an extended term of probation, post-release supervision, parole, you have outstanding monetary obligations, and you are not aware of other reasons for the extension of your period of supervision.

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