Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) just signaled his refusal to let his state’s supreme court deter his plan to restore voting rights to ex-offenders.
Back in April, McAuliffe signed an executive order that opened voting booths to 206,000 residents with past felony convictions. But on Friday (July 22), the Virginia Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that he lacks the authority to do so. Per NPR:
“Never before have any of the prior 71 Virginia Governors issued a clemency order of any kind—including pardons, reprieves, commutations, and restoration orders—to a class of unnamed felons without regard for the nature of the crimes or any other individual circumstances relevant to the request,” the majority wrote. “To be sure, no Governor of this Commonwealth, until now, has even suggested that such a power exists. And the only Governors who have seriously considered the question concluded that no such power exists.”
The justices made it clear that using a blanket order goes against the state’s constitution, and the ruling directs the state registrars to cancel the registrations of every person who filed under the governor’s order.
McAuliffe countered in a statement that he will restore the rights of those ex-offenders—46 percent of whom are Black, despite Blacks making up less than 20 percent of the population, per ThinkProgress—even if he has to do it one by one.
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.