WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - A federal court in Winston-Salem held a hearing today to weigh final approval of a proposed class-action settlement that would provide an opportunity for tens of thousands of North Carolinians to have their driver’s licenses restored if they were revoked as a result of a person’s inability to pay fines, penalties, and court costs. The settlement was proposed by civil rights organizations and the N.C. Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in the federal class-action lawsuit Johnson v. Jessup.
If the settlement is approved, the DMV will provide a special notice to tens of thousands of drivers with a revoked license that informs them how they can seek reinstatement of their licenses if their licenses were revoked due to inability to pay. The DMV will also revise future notices to include information on how a driver can petition and demonstrate to the court their inability to pay a traffic-related fine or cost prior to a failure to pay revocation. Under the settlement, the DMV has also agreed to fund an informational website that will host informational videos, written explanations, and other materials on preventing or removing a license suspension for non-payment from a person’s record, as well as pro bono legal resources that may be available for people seeking to avoid license revocation or remove a revocation from their record.
Today’s hearing comes nearly four years after three North Carolinians filed suit challenging North Carolina’s law and the DMV’s practice of revoking driver’s licenses as unconstitutional. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of North Carolina, and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) represent plaintiffs in the case.
After today’s hearing, the organizations representing plaintiffs in the case issued the following statement:
“We appreciate the court’s consideration of this settlement. We are hopeful that we can soon end the practice of revoking people’s drivers’ licenses solely because they are not wealthy, a practice that has disproportionately affected people and communities of color. For too long, the poverty-based practice of revoking driver’s licenses has resulted in tens of thousands of North Carolinians having to decide between providing for their families and losing their ability to drive, which is often essential for employment, accessing healthcare, buying groceries, and more.
“We thank the court for considering the settlement brought forth by the plaintiffs and the DMV that would provide a path forward for many of the North Carolinians who have been harmed by this practice.”