In a unanimous ruling
, the North Carolina Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals decision dismissing the constitutional challenge brought by the families of three victims of the state’s forty-year forced sterilization program whose claims under the Eugenics Compensation Act were denied in 2015.
The legislature established the eugenics compensation program in 2013 to "make restitution for the injustices suffered" by victims of the State's violation of the most fundamental human rights--the right to privacy of one's body, and the decision to bear children. Although the compensation statute provides that the heirs of victims are eligible to receive compensation, these claimants argued that the statute’s inclusion of an arbitrary cut-off date that victims must have survived to July 1, 2013, violates their rights to equal protection under the North Carolina Constitution.
Last year, a divided panel of the Court of Appeals held that, because of the 2014 adoption of G.S. §1-267.1 (the "Three Judge Panel Rule" for constitutional claims), the court had no jurisdiction to hear these cases, remanding them to a three-judge panel in Wake County Superior Court. Judge Dillon dissented, asserting that the later statute did not apply to administrative appeals.
In a powerful opinion issued by Justice Barbara Jackson on March 17, 2017, the Supreme Court reversed the dismissal and remanded the case to the Court of Appeals “to consider the merits of claimant’s constitutional challenge.” The Court recognized that pursuant to the comprehensive statutory scheme established by the compensation act that the claimants had followed, the Court of Appeals was the correct venue to consider their constitutional claims.
Moreover, in contrast to the lower court’s conclusion, Justice Jackson wrote that the “plain language” of the three-judge panel statute makes clear that is does not apply to eugenics Compensation claims. The Court concluded that the constitutional challenge “was properly before the Court of Appeals,” and remanded the case for full consideration of the merits of these claims.
Posted by Mark Dorosin on Fri. March 17, 2017 2:22 PM