Victory in Tennessee for Low-Income Drivers!

This week, in response to the class action filed by NCLEJ and its partners, a federal Judge ordered the State of Tennessee to stop the practice of revoking driver’s licenses from people too poor to pay fines and fees arising from criminal convictions. In Tennessee, more than 146,000 people have had their driver’s license revoked because they were too poor to pay criminal court debt. As a result, they cannot drive to work, school, or medical appointments, or even to vote. In Tennessee, there is no generally available, reliable public transportation.

The Court held in a statewide class action that the laws we challenged are unconstitutional “because Tennessee’s system has the actual effect of imposing a harsher punishment on indigent defendants than on non-indigent defendants based solely on their economic circumstances. A non-indigent defendant has a choice: pay or lose his license.” The poor have no such choice.

The Judge struck down the law until such time as Tennessee considers ability to pay in whether to revoke the driver’s license and ordered the state to restore driving privileges by the end of this summer.

NCLEJ partnered with Just City; Civil Rights Corps; and Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell and Berkowitz.

You can read more about the case:

NCLEJ files suit
New York Times
The Hill

See our video which features this story here.