Legal Library

Royal v. North Carolina


On December 9, 1999, a broad coalition of North Carolina citizens and organizations filed suit in state court in Raleigh charging that the campaign finance system for North Carolina's state elections violates the rights of non-wealthy voters and candidates. The plaintiffs, including North Carolina's State Conference of NAACP Branches, North Carolina Fair Share, and the North Carolina Alliance for Democracy, say that the current system of private money in elections undermines the rights of non-wealthy citizens to vote and to run for political office. The defendants include the State of North Carolina and the North Carolina Board of Elections.

The lawsuit highlights the electoral races of a number of plaintiffs across the political spectrum who have run for state legislative office and who have faced the money barrier. The plaintiffs argue that the current system of financing North Carolina's state campaigns operates as a "wealth primary," excluding non-wealthy voters and candidates from meaningful participation in elections. Plaintiffs argue that, like the unlawful white primaries of the past, today's wealth primary violates the constitutional guarantee for equal protection for all in the political process. The plaintiffs also argue that their exclusion from the political process violates the North Carolina Constitution's Property Qualifications Clause, a unique provision that prohibits any property qualification from affecting the right to vote or hold office.

Expert analysis of data from the four most recent General Assembly election cycles support the plaintiffs' claim, concluding that the amount of money spent in a race bears a strong and consistent statistical relationship to the proportion of votes a candidate receives. In plain terms, according to the plaintiffs' expert witness Professor Theodore Arrington, chair of the political science department at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, without money a candidate cannot meaningfully compete. A candidate's ability to raise money, he says, has become more important than the candidate's qualifications or policies.

The plaintiffs argue that the Constitution of North Carolina requires a fairer system. In its most fundamental provisions, that Constitution expressly guarantees the sovereign power of the people and the equality of all persons under the law. It unequivocally requires that all citizens exercise equal political rights in the electoral process. To advance these guarantees, the Constitution of North Carolina mandates that each citizen's participation in self-government be meaningful, fair and free from any qualification based on wealth.

Plaintiffs seek a court order requiring adequate public financing for North Carolina legislative elections " allow any and all qualified citizens to meaningfully compete for public office, regardless of their economic status."

In October, 2000, the Superior Court heard oral argument on the defendants' motion to dismiss the case. Almost one year later, on August 2, 2001, the court granted the motion.

The plaintiffs filed a Notice of Appeal and their legal brief in support of the appeal in January 2002. The court will schedule oral argument after all briefing has been completed.