The South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles’ policy of automatically suspending the driver’s licenses of people unable to pay traffic tickets resulted in the current suspension of more than 190,000 driver’s licenses as of May 2019. The SPLC and its allies filed a federal lawsuit challenging the practice as a violation of the 14th Amendment right to due process and equal protection under the law.
U.S. Supreme Court precedent makes clear that the 14th Amendment requires consideration of a person’s inability to pay before they are punished for nonpayment of a court fine, costs, or fees. However, when the DMV receives a report that a South Carolina driver’s license holder has not paid a traffic ticket, it automatically suspends the license.
In a state where 1 in 6 people live in poverty and 9 out of 10 people rely on driving to get to work, driver’s license suspensions prevent people from finding and keeping work, taking their children to and from school, accessing health care, purchasing groceries and other necessities, and traveling to places of worship.
The suit seeks to end the DMV’s indefinite suspension of driver’s licenses for nonpayment of traffic fines and fees without proper notice or a hearing. It also seeks to lift past failure-to-pay suspensions imposed under this system and to eliminate DMV reinstatement fees as well as fees charged for a hearing to dispute suspensions – a practice that bars people from explaining their inability to pay.