RICHMOND, Va.—On Thursday, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin gave Rudy Carey, a Fredericksburg resident fighting to end Virginia’s so-called “barrier laws,” an official pardon. The pardon came after a years-long lawsuit aimed at vindicating Carey’s right to work as a substance-abuse counselor, despite having a long-since-past conviction on his record. By pardoning Carey, Youngkin has cleared the way for him to once again do the job he loved: working to help people kick addictions and get their lives back on track. It also likely ends Carey’s federal lawsuit.
“I’m speechless,” said Carey when he heard the news. “It was like fireworks going off.”
Rudy struggled with drug abuse decades ago. In 2004, he was convicted of striking a police officer while he was high. But after getting out of prison, he turned his life around and then dedicated himself to helping others overcome their own struggles with drugs. For five years he worked as a substance-abuse counselor, helping others with the addictions he’d overcome himself. But his career fell apart in 2018, when the state told him he was banned from working as a substance-abuse counselor anywhere in Virginia, forever.
Rudy was a victim of Virginia’s “barrier law”—a law that bans people with convictions for any of 176 so-called “barrier crimes” from being employed in “direct care” positions, including as substance-abuse counselors. In 2021, Rudy—represented by the nonprofit Institute for Justice (IJ)—filed a federal lawsuit challenging the barrier law as a violation of his constitutional rights. The lawsuit is currently pending before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
“We’re thrilled for Rudy, and it’s hard to imagine anyone more deserving,” said IJ Attorney Andrew Ward. “At the same time, it’s unfortunate that the barrier law will stay on the books.”
Even the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Development Services, the agency tasked with enforcing the law, agrees that it is shortsighted, writing that it makes hiring qualified individuals “challenging,” and that “many have lived experience, or first-hand experience with mental health or substance use challenges, which can be an invaluable in the provision of services and essential to the growth of peer services.”
“The government shouldn’t stop people from working because of irrelevant criminal convictions,” said IJ Attorney Mike Greenberg. “As long as this law is banning qualified people from working in a much-needed field, IJ will be looking for ways to fight it.”
The Institute for Justice is a nonprofit, public interest law firm that stands up for Americans’ right to earn an honest living, and it is leading the charge against permanent punishment laws across the country. In 2020, IJ won its challenge to a Pennsylvania law that required would-be cosmetologists to prove they had “good moral character” to work in skincare. IJ is also challenging a USDA policy that prevents people with old drug convictions from accepting food stamps in their businesses, as well as an FCC effort to revoke a broadcast license based on a 14-year-old tax crime that has nothing to do with the airwaves.