States can’t revoke residents’ driver’s licenses because they didn’t pay their traffic fines, civil rights groups said in a new lawsuit this week.
The American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy organizations filed the lawsuit against North Carolina, telling a federal judge the licenses are a right that cannot be taken away without due process, such as a hearing.
Plaintiffs said having a license is crucial to their lives.
“I’d previously fallen behind on my rent and sacrificed the needs of my children just to keep my license,” said Seti Johnson, a single mother with a low income. “I cannot afford to do that again. This has to stop.”
North Carolina automatically revokes licenses of drivers who fail to pay their tickets within 40 days of a court judgment. No hearing is required before the state makes the revocation.
The ACLU and other groups, though, say the state must hold hearings and let people argue for exemptions to the revocation because they can’t afford to pay the fines they incurred by breaking the law. The groups said the law works for wealthier people who can pay their fines and against the poor who cannot cover what they incurred.
A spokesperson from the state’s transportation department told The Washington Times Thursday it had not formally received the lawsuit yet.
The lawsuit’s backers say North Carolina’s law particularly hits poor people who may struggle to pay up after breaking traffic laws, but for whom being able to drive is a critical part of their livelihoods.
“I just want a fair chance to take care of my family,” said Sharee Smoot, another plaintiff. “I can’t afford to pay the tickets right now, but that shouldn’t prevent me from having a driver’s license.”