Appeals Court Grants Legislators’ Request to Block Lower Court Ruling in Felon Voter Case

AG Josh Stein refused to file appeal in the case, prompting legislators to fire him

Legislators’ new attorneys did what Stein refused to do, and won

Appeals court decision keeps in place most of 1973 law (passed by Democrats) outlining how felons can regain their right to vote

Raleigh, N.C. — The North Carolina Court of Appeals today blocked a lower court ruling in a case involving felon voter rights. The decision keeps in place most of a 1973 law, passed by Democrats, outlining how felons can regain their voting rights.

Attorney General Josh Stein is required by law to represent the state in this case, but he refused to take any action after the initial lower court ruling despite requests from legislators. The legislature then fired him and hired new counsel.

The new counsel did what Stein refused to do, and won.

Sen. Warren Daniel (R-Burke) said, “The decision to block the lower court’s ruling affirms that judges can’t just replace laws they don’t like with new ones. It also shows how false Attorney General Josh Stein’s purported reason was for refusing to defend the legislature in this case.”

What’s Going On?

The North Carolina Constitution stipulates that felons cannot ever vote unless the legislature adopts a law to re-enfranchise them. In 1973, Democrats in the legislature passed such a law outlining when and how felons can regain the right to vote.

More than a year ago, a group filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn that 1973 law. The suit was dormant for most of the year, until last month a court decided to fast-track the case. The trial ended two weeks ago and the court verbally issued its decision, but declined to release a written opinion.

The verbal 2–1 decision effectively puts in place a new law, created by judges, governing felon voting rights to replace the law passed in 1973.

After the lower court’s ruling, Sen. Warren Daniel (R-Burke) said, “This law, passed by a Democrat-led legislature 50 years ago, provides a path for felons to regain voting rights. If a judge prefers a different path to regaining those rights, then he or she should run for the General Assembly and propose that path. Judges aren’t supposed to be oligarchs who issue whatever decrees they think best.”

Attorney General Josh Stein

After the lower court’s ruling, legislative leaders asked their lawyer, Attorney General Josh Stein, to immediately appeal the determination. Stein refused, citing an odd technicality that his office claimed forbade him from appealing a judge’s ruling without a written opinion.

Legislative leaders fired Stein for refusing to perform his duties (read the letter to Stein here).

The legislature then engaged a new firm for new representation. The new firm filed a stay pending appeal of the court’s ruling almost immediately. That request was granted today by the Court of Appeals.

The decision means that the lower court’s ruling is blocked while a full appeal of that ruling proceeds.

The official Medium account for N.C. Senate Leader Phil Berger’s press office.