North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Torre Jessup has been sued in his official capacity by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) on behalf of two plaintiffs who allege the state’s indefinite revocation of hundreds of thousands of drivers’ licenses has stripped impoverished residents of their ability to provide for their families.
The 35-page lawsuit explains one named plaintiff is a 27-year-old black father of three who’s been unemployed and unable to pay off a traffic ticket. Consequently, the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV), the case says, automatically entered an order revoking the man’s license, effective July 24, 2018. The plaintiff, however, has recently obtained a new job, and effectively a “potential path to upward mobility and to paying off that ticket,” the suit says. The North Carolina DMV’s revocation policy has put all this in jeopardy, the complaint argues, as the plaintiff “will have to either forego the job” or illegally drive.
The second named plaintiff’s situation is similar to that of the first in that her license was revoked in 2016 and 2018 due to her inability to pay traffic tickets, according to the case.
“A revoked license has forced her to make the difficult choice of either driving illegally and risk arrest or additional tickets every day simply because there is no other way for her to support herself, her daughter, and her grandmother or stay at home and lose her job and ability to provide for her and her family’s daily needs.”
Hundreds of thousands of North Carolina residents have found themselves in situations not at all different than those of the named plaintiffs, the lawsuit alleges. According to the complaint, the North Carolina DMV’s revocation of so many drivers’ licenses, in a state where the plaintiffs argue a license “is indispensable to mobility and economic self-sufficiency,” amounts to a wealth-based scheme that harms the residents who perhaps are in the greatest need of automotive mobility.
“This license revocation scheme forces the most economically vulnerable further into poverty, in violation of their right to due process and equal protection of the law under the U.S. Constitution,” the lawsuit states.
According to the lawsuit, the North Carolina DMV will revoke a driver’s license for an indefinite period of time with “no hearing or inquiry into the driver’s ability to pay” off a fine. Upward of 436,000 drivers’ licenses have been revoked for non-payment of fines as of Fall 2017, the suit says.