In a 4-3 decision, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled Friday Governor Terry McAuliffe’s executive order restoring voting rights to over 200,000 convicted ex-felons is unconstitutional.
Stating the governor had overstepped his executive powers, the Court stated no previous governor in the history of Virginia had issued a blanket clemency to an entire group of former law violators.
“To be sure, no governor of Virginia, 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 Court stated in its majority opinion.
McAuliffe originally stated his April 22, 2016, action was aimed at preventing voter disenfranchisement among African-American voters, a significant demographic of the Democratic voter base.
Under provisions in the Virginia state Constitution, felons are barred from voting, but can have rights restored by the governor.
Had the clemency order survived the court challenge, over 200,000 ex-felons no longer on probation or under supervision of the court system would have had their voting rights restored.
In a statement released by his office, McAuliff blasted the Court ruling:
“(The Court’s decision) 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.”
In contrast, Virginia Republican party chairman John Whitbeck welcomed the decision:
“(McAuliffe’s decision amounted to) a blatant effort to stack the deck for Hillary Clinton in November.”
Attorneys for the GOP-controlled state legislature had argued against McAuliffe’s sweeping edict and urged for individual reviews of each case.
McAuliffe later expressed his intent to sign individual orders restoring voting rights to over 13,000 individuals.