Virginia Republican lawmakers filed a motion Wednesday that seeks to hold Gov. Terry McAuliffe in contempt of a court order that struck down his initial plan to restore voting rights to felons.
The GOP lawmakers argue that the Democratic governor’s plan to restore voting rights on a case-by-case basis to thousands of convicted felons is essentially the same as the plan a divided Virginia Supreme Court previously struck down on the grounds that he lacked the constitutional authority to restore the right en masse.
The original plan would have restored voting rights categorically to more than 200,000 felons who had finished serving their sentences.
“‘The practical effect of Governor McAuliffe’s August 22 decision to issue over 200,000 individual restoration orders is precisely the same: his newly announced process will effectively suspend Virginia’s general constitutional prohibition against felon voting for over 200,000 felons,” the motion reads.
House of Delegates Speaker William J. Howell, Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. and four Virginia voters filed the 27-page contempt motion Wednesday, seeking an order that would require the governor to show cause why he should not be held in contempt of the court’s original order.
The original court decision, issued in July, held that the state Constitution’s “anti-suspension and voter-disqualification provisions preclude the Governor from exercising his clemency power on a categorical basis,” and noted that past governors also have refused to restore rights on a categorical basis.
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Mr. McAuliffe responded Wednesday, saying the case-by-case restoration plan he developed was fully in compliance with the court’s order.
“This lawsuit is an attempt to use the judiciary system to intimidate and disenfranchise people who are living in our communities and paying taxes,” Mr. McAuliffe said. “The people who have filed it are more concerned with the impact new voters could have on Donald Trump’s campaign than they are with the dignity of the people whom they continue to drag through the mud with their political lawsuits and ugly attacks.”
The stakes of the legal battle are high. Virginia is considered a battleground state in this year’s presidential election, and Democrats expect that the vast majority of felons who could vote again would vote for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton rather than Mr. Trump, the Republican nominee.
The state Supreme Court ruled that it “respectfully disagrees” with Mr. McAuliffe’s position that he has the executive power to make such a sweeping move and restore the voting rights of all the state’s disenfranchised felons at once, and ordered the cancellation of registration of all voters convicted of a felony who had registered under the governor’s executive orders.
After being sent back to the drawing board, the governor announced last week that he had restored the voting rights of 13,000 felons by individually signing restoration orders and that he intends to move forward in signing individual orders for the remainder of convicted felons in the state.
“After a thorough legal review, it is clear that Governor McAuliffe has once again illegally suspended the Constitution of Virginia,” said Mr. Howell, Stafford Republican. “There is no practical difference between his latest action and his first set of executive orders.”
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The motion asked that the state Supreme Court also consider issuing an order that would enforce its previous judgment and block the governor from registering any of the felons whose rights were restored without an application submitted by the person.
• Andrea Noble can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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