RICHMOND, Va. – The Supreme Court of Virginia ruled against Gov. McAuliffe’s orders restoring felons’ rights on Friday. The orders would’ve allowed more than 200,000 felons to regain their voting rights.
The governor signed an executive order restoring felons’ rights in April. He singed other orders in May and June. Those rights include the right to vote, right to sit on a jury and the right to serve in an elected office. In May, republicans challenged the orders, saying McAuliffe didn’t have the powers.
In the majority opinion, Chief Justice Donald Lemons writes, “The unprecedented scope, magnitude, and categorical nature of Governor McAuliffe’s Executive Order crosses that forbidden line. ”
Virginia is one of ten states that do not automatically restore the rights after they complete their sentences. The new order applies to both non-violent and violent felons.
The Department of Elections has until August 25 to delete felons who have registered from the voting registry.
In response, Republican House Speaker Bill Howell and Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment issued the following statement:
“The Supreme Court of Virginia delivered a major victory for the Constitution, the rule of law and the Commonwealth of Virginia. Our nation was founded on the principles of limited government and separation of powers. Those principles have once again withstood assault from the executive branch. This opinion is a sweeping rebuke of the governor’s unprecedented assertion of executive authority. We are grateful to the justices of the Supreme Court for their prompt and thorough attention to this case.”
Gov. McAuliffe released a statement about this decision:
“Once again, the Virginia Supreme Court has placed Virginia as an outlier in the struggle for civil and human rights. It is a disgrace that the Republican leadership of Virginia would file a lawsuit to deny more than 200,000 of their own citizens the right to vote. And I cannot accept that this overtly political action could succeed in suppressing the voices of many thousands of men and women who had rejoiced with their families earlier this year when their rights were restored.
“Forty states give citizens who have made mistakes and paid their debt to society a straightforward process for restoring voting rights. I remain committed to moving past our Commonwealth’s history of injustice to embrace an honest process for restoring the rights of our citizens, and I believe history and the vast majority of Virginians are on our side.
“Despite the Court’s ruling, we have the support of the state’s four leading constitutional experts, including A.E. Dick Howard, who drafted the current Virginia Constitution. They are convinced that our action is within the constitutional authority granted to the Office of the Governor.
“The men and women whose voting rights were restored by my executive action should not be alarmed. I will expeditiously sign nearly 13,000 individual orders to restore the fundamental rights of the citizens who have had their rights restored and registered to vote. And I will continue to sign orders until I have completed restoration for all 200,000 Virginians. My faith remains strong in all of our citizens to choose their leaders, and I am prepared to back up that faith with my executive pen. The struggle for civil rights has always been a long and difficult one, but the fight goes on.”