Proskauer recently represented the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution at John Jay College in submitting an amicus brief before the Supreme Court of North Carolina in a major voting rights lawsuit. The case, Community Success Initiative v. Moore, involves a challenge to N.C. Gen. Stat. §13-1, a felony supervision law that denies the franchise to over 56,000 North Carolinians. Under §13-1, individuals who have been convicted of felonies cannot register to vote unless they have been “unconditionally discharged” from felony probation, parole, or post-release supervision.
The case originated in 2019 when six individual plaintiffs and several nonprofit organizations sued a number of North Carolina state actors, including the Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, seeking a determination that §13-1 violates the North Carolina Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and Free Elections Clause. In August 2021, a three-judge panel in Wake County Superior Court issued a preliminary injunction in favor of the plaintiffs, enjoining the state from applying the law’s voter restrictions, but the injunction was stayed by the North Carolina Court of Appeals shortly thereafter. The same Wake County three-judge panel then issued a ruling on the merits in March 2022, again siding with the plaintiffs.
The voluminous record before the panel included evidence offered by the plaintiffs documenting the history—all the way back to 1877—of felony supervision laws in North Carolina and showing that §13-1’s enactment in 1973 was racially motivated. Additionally, the record included expert findings, stipulated to by all parties, demonstrating the “extreme racial disparities in disenfranchisement among African American and White North Carolinians.”
Following the March 2022 ruling, the defendants in the North Carolina Legislature again requested a stay from the North Carolina Court of Appeals. The stay was partially granted, allowing §13-1 to stay in effect through the May and June 2022 primary elections. The Supreme Court of North Carolina then granted the plaintiffs’ petition for discretionary review to definitively rule on the statute’s future. The pending decision before the state’s Supreme Court has been followed closely by voting rights advocates nationwide. Among the amicus briefs filed in support of the plaintiffs is a submission from 12 states and the District of Columbia.
Proskauer’s brief for the Institute in Innovative Prosecution supports the plaintiffs’ challenge from a criminal justice perspective. It argues that §13-1, which was purportedly drafted with an intent to promote rehabilitation and public safety, has the opposite effect. Specifically, it draws from scholarly literature to argue that disenfranchisement prevents individuals’ post-release integration into the community, harms public safety, and breeds hardship for families and communities. The brief also echoes the trial court’s sentiment to point out that by creating a lasting stigma for formerly incarcerated individuals and discouraging them from civic participation, the statute fails to advance any valid state interest.
The Proskauer team is led by partners Lloyd Chinn and Joe O’Keefe and includes associates Alisha Bruce, Hayden Bashinski, Max Capizzi, and Jay Jensen, as well as summer associates Michael Clifford-Beckwith, Margaret Lederer, and William West.