Court rules that Michigan can suspend driver's licenses for unpaid fines

May 10, 2019

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled Michigan is allowed to suspend a driver's license over unpaid fines, something opponents argue disproportionately affects poorer people.

Reuters reported on the ruling in a Wednesday report after the court ruled 2-1 in favor of suspending driver's licenses to uphold court orders and pay collect traffic fines.

“Such a policy is rationally related to the government’s interest in prompt assessment and collection of civil penalties,” Circuit Judge Alice Batchelder wrote for the majority from the federal courthouse in Cincinnati.

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The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is the same court that has recently made headlines after striking down cities' ability to use tire chalking to enforce parking limits.

While the ruling doesn't specifically single out poor drivers, opponents to the ruling said it harder for low-income drivers to get by. Those with unpaid fines likely use a vehicle to get to and from work, and without the ability to drive, won't be able to pay their fines at all.

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The practice isn't uncommon in the U.S. In 2017, according to the nonprofit Legal Aid Justice Center, 43 states and Washington, D.C., practice license suspensions over unpaid court debt. Forty states allow for suspensions without taking into account a driver's ability to pay. However, Washington, D.C., ended the practice last year.

Following the verdict, it remains unclear if opponents will issue an appeal to the decision.

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