Just City's executive director Josh Spickler calls the policy "failed" and "destructive."
Just City and others filed a class action lawsuit last week to stop Tennessee’s practice of suspending drivers licenses because drivers could not pay traffic tickets.
The practice criminalizes poverty and disproportionately affects African Americans, according to Just City. In Tennessee, African-American drivers are four times more likely to lose their licenses for not paying traffic tickets than white drivers, Just City said.
The Memphis nonprofit criminal justice reform agency was joined on the suit by attorneys from Civil Rights Corps, the National Center for Law and Economic Justice (NCLEJ), and the law firm Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz.
The groups contend the suspensions happen without basic constitutional protections, like giving drivers adequate notice of the suspension or allowing them a hearing to give reasons why they aren’t able to pay the fines.
“When applied to people like our clients – who did not pay only because they could not pay —these suspensions are fundamentally unfair,” said Claudia Wilner, senior attorney at NCLEJ.
The suit was filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee in Nashville.
It names David Purkey
, Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner, as the primary defendant but also the court clerks in Rutherford and Wilson Counties and the clerks of Lebanon and Mt. Juliet.
The suit asks the state to end the practice and to resinstate the drivers licenses of about 250,000 who lost them because they couldn’t afford to pay traffic tickets.
Here’s what Just City executive director Josh Spickler said of the practice:
“I see the destructive nature of this failed public policy nearly every day. Already struggling against poor mass transit and limited job opportunities in their neighborhoods, people are forced to drive across town to find work.
“Getting caught means hundreds of dollars in costs and fines and potentially jail. Not driving means not working.
“This destructive public policy does nothing except erode our workforce and criminalize poverty. We look forward to challenging this law in court and bringing some much-needed relief to Tennessee’s working families.”
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