A state court panel in North Carolina on Monday restored voting rights to more than 55,000 residents who are on parole, probation, or supervised release for a felony.
This is the largest expansion of voting rights in the state since the 1960s, Daryl Atkinson of the civil rights group Forward Justice said. Under North Carolina law, felons had to finish probation or parole before regaining their voting rights, and challengers said this disproportionately affected the Black community — during arguments last week before the court, lawyer Stanton Jones said that Black people comprise 21 percent of North Carolina's voting-age population, but make up 42 percent of those whose voting rights are taken away because of the law.
This is "no surprise," Jones said, because "that's exactly what it was designed to do." North Carolina's felony disenfranchisement laws were created after the Civil War, the News & Observer reports, and were enacted at a time when freed slaves were often accused of committing felonies.
Attorney Orlando Rodriguez, acting on behalf of Republican state politicians, defended the law, telling the court while the original measure was racist, it was revamped in the 1970s because of the civil rights movement. "This newer history clearly indicates a trajectory toward improving the ability to have the right to vote," he said. After the ruling was announced, GOP lawmakers said they would appeal it to a higher court.