Tzedek DC, the Virginia NAACP, and Coalition Partners File Brief in Opposition to Drivers’ Licenses Being Suspended for Unpaid Debts

Washington, D.C., August 16, 2017– Tzedek DC, the Virginia NAACP, and coalition partners today submitted an amicus brief in a case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit arising out of the dismissal by the lower court of a class action complaint filed on behalf of over 900,000 Virginians whose drivers’ licenses were suspended.  Virginia, like the District of Columbia – where Tzedek DC’s legal and ongoing policy reform work on behalf of low-income DC residents with debt related issues is focused – currently suspends driver’s licenses when traffic tickets and court debt are unpaid, without any inquiry into the ability of the person with the driver’s license to pay traffic-related debts and the often accompanying late fees and penalties.

The brief details how, for many, the loss of a driver’s license means “a loss of a reliable way of meeting one’s basic needs such as transporting oneself or family members to work, to critical medical appointments, taking children to school and shopping for food.”  It argues that the automatic suspension of driver’s licenses in Virginia for non-payment of debt both has a disparate impact on  African-Americans and violates the Constitution’s due process and equal protection principles.

Tzedek DC in its first seven months of operations has, along with financial literacy work and legal work representing over 70 individuals being sued or threatened in debt cases, filed coalition amicus briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court, DC Circuit, and now the Fourth Circuit, related to debt and consumer  issues.  

Ariel Levinson-Waldman, President and Director-Counsel of Tzedek DC, commented: “As the brief notes, our client communities have a substantial interest in ensuring that the rules governing drivers’ licenses comply with constitutional requirements and basic principles of fairness. We believe that suspending drivers’ licenses in debt matters, especially with no inquiry into the individual’s ability to pay, is not only constitutionally dubious but also unfair and counter-productive public policy. In effect, it punishes the poor for being poor.”  

Contact: Sarah Hollender,