North Carolina’s right-wing controlled Supreme Court heard arguments earlier this month in a case that could decide when people convicted of a felony can vote again, according to WRAL.
Currently, those who have served prison time for a felony are allowed to vote in North Carolina only after they finish probation and parole and pay off any outstanding court fees.
Such restrictions, especially monetary ones, can make it nearly impossible for a formerly incarcerated person to ever get their right to vote back.
Many activists say that voting rights should be restored immediately after a person finishes their prison sentence and that the current laws disenfranchise Black people – who are more likely to have a felony conviction – and those without the finances to pay off fines.
Activists won the argument in a lower court ahead of last year’s midterm elections and people on probation were allowed to vote. That was before the state Supreme Court swung from a 4-3 Democratic majority to a 5-2 Republican majority.
Now, the Republican-controlled high court is considering a decision that will determine whether people on probation will keep their right to vote or if they are going to be disenfranchised again, WRAL reported.
The court’s new makeup points heavily toward those on probation losing their right to vote again. According to WRAL, right-wing Republican judges Chief Justice Paul Newby, Justice Trey Allen, Justice Phil Berger Jr. (whose father is a defendant in the case) and Justice Richard Dietz all had very pointed questions for the activists’ lawyers.
In addition, Newby “jousted” with Daryl Atkinson, co-director and attorney for Forward Justice, over Atkinson’s definition of “property qualifications,” according to WRAL. Atkinson argued that requiring people to pay fines before they vote is no different than a long-unconstitutional rule that required people to own property before they could vote, Newby did not agree with that view.
A number of the justices’ arguments, as well as the argument of an attorney for the Republican legislators, was that there’s no way to prove that the current laws were made with racist intent or are racist in practice.
Arguments lasted around an hour. So many voting rights advocates showed up that the courtroom filled up and more than 50 people had to watch a livestream in an overflow room at First Baptist Church near the Supreme Court building, WRAL reported.
It’s not known at this time when the state Supreme Court will rule in the case.
This particular voting case is the new court’s first political lawsuit and their decision will impact approximately 56,000 people.