The Virginia Supreme Court ruled, 4 to 3, that Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s decision to restore voting rights to more than 200,000 felons violates the state’s constitution. The Washington Post reports that the ruling dealt a major blow to the Democratic governor with implications for the November presidential race in the swing state. The court majority said McAuliffe overstepped his clemency powers by issuing a sweeping order in April restoring rights to all ex-offenders who are no longer incarcerated or on probation or parole. The court agreed with state Republicans who challenged McAuliffe’s order, arguing that the governor can only restore voting rights on a case-by-case basis and not en masse.
“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,” said Chief Justice Donald Lemons. “To be sure, no Governor of this Commonwealth, until now, has even suggested that such a power exists.” A defiant McAuliffe said he would pick up his executive pen and restore the rights of those felons on an individual basis, even if it means signing more than 200,000 orders. The court directed the state elections commissioner, Edgardo Cortés, to cancel the registrations by Aug. 25 of 13,000 felons who had joined the voter rolls after McAuliffe signed his order. McAuliffe said he would “expeditiously” sign individual orders for those 13,000 felons and then keep on signing.