The Virginia State Conference of the NAACP has asked the court for leave to file as amicus curiae in opposing DMV Commissioner Holcomb’s motion to dismiss the complaint in Stinnie v. Holcomb. Stinnie v. Holcomb is our lawsuit challenging Virginia’s system of automatically suspending driver’s licenses for unpaid court debt without inquiring into the debtor’s financial circumstances.
Today, the Legal Aid Justice Center filed a Memorandum of Opposition on behalf of the Plaintiffs in response to the Commissioner’s Oct. 3 Motion to Dismiss in Stinnie v. Holcomb. In the Opposition, we argue that (1) legal technicalities do not prevent the court from hearing this lawsuit, and (2) the Commissioner is wrong in his position that the Plaintiffs have not sufficiently alleged that Virginia’s license-for-repayment scheme violates the United States Constitution in the following ways:
- It violates due process and fundamental fairness by setting up a justice system that punishes those who owe money to the state for sheer inability to pay.
- It strips Plaintiffs of a constitutionally protected property interest – their driver’s licenses – without the guaranteed safeguards of notice and a hearing.
- It violates equal protection by treating those who are willing but unable to pay more harshly than those who are willing and able to pay, when the only difference between them is the amount of money they have.
- Suspending licenses for court debt fails even the most minimum constitutional standards because it is not rationally related to legitimate state interests – indeed, by siphoning away law enforcement resources and preventing debtors from earning a living, it undermines the state’s asserted interests in advancing highway safety and prompting repayment.
- It subjects Plaintiffs to harsher collection practices than those for civil debtors, in violation of equal protection.
In support of our Opposition, the Virginia State Conference of the NAACP has asked the court for leave to file an amicus brief arguing that Virginia’s driver’s license suspension system for unpaid court debt disproportionately harms black Virginians, violates constitutional rights, and fails even the most basic sense of fairness. In its brief, the NAACP points to data showing “[b]lack people make up only 20% of Virginia’s population, but receive nearly half of the orders of suspension for unpaid court debt,” and “nearly 60% of convictions for driving while suspended wherein court debt was imposed but is ‘past due’ are associated with blacks.” Full Amicus Brief (PDF)
The Legal Aid Justice Center believes that Virginia’s automatic license-for-payment system exposes hundreds of thousands of people to indefinite driver’s license suspension, spiraling debt, and incarceration for driving while suspended, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee that no one shall be punished for their poverty.