“North Carolina Supreme Court Signals It May Roll Back Voting Rights for Thousands”


The state supreme court on Thursday held a hearing on whether North Carolinians should have the right to vote while on probation or parole. The case, CSI vs. Moore, is a challenge to North Carolina’s felony disenfranchisement law, which bars people from voting if they are incarcerated and if they are on some form of supervision over a felony conviction. 

Last year, a Superior Court in Wake County issued a landmark ruling in favor of the plaintiffs, effectively restoring the right to vote of 56,000 people in the run-up to the 2022 midterms.

The ruling kicked off a rush among civil rights organizers in North Carolina to tell those “second-chance voters” that they had regained their access to the ballot box, NC Policy Watch and Bolts reported in November. Some of them got to vote in November thanks to the ruling, which made North Carolina one of 24 states where anyone not incarcerated can vote.

But the 2022 midterms upended the political context in North Carolina by flipping the partisan majority of the state supreme court. Republicans picked up two seats, shifting the court to a 5-2 Republican majority and significantly diminishing the odds of major civil rights litigation like this lawsuit. 

The partisan shift loomed large at Thursday’s hearings. The two new Republican associate justices, Trey Allen and Richard Dietz, each signaled their skepticism toward the lower court ruling that expanded rights restoration. 

“The trial court seems to have imposed a remedy that’s beyond the authority of a court because the courts can’t grant the restoration of voting rights to felons,” said Allen. “The Constitution expressly provides that those rights can only be restored in the manner prescribed by law, and the authority to adopt such a law rests with the General Assembly, not with any court.”

“It seems that our constitutional doctrine is pretty clear, that in North Carolina, we don’t try to get into the minds of legislators,” said Dietz, pushing back against the idea that courts should remedy constitutional violations directly. “We declare something unconstitutional and then tell that other branch of government, ‘You need to try again. You enacted a law and it was unconstitutional. Enact one that is not unconstitutional.’”

Their GOP colleagues hinted that they largely shared this attitude. Should they rule to overturn the Superior Court, it could roll back last year’s voting rights expansion.

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