- The Washington Times - Friday, July 22, 2016

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said Saturday he already has begun restoring the voting rights of convicted felons one-by-one, after the state Supreme Court rescinded his executive action granting voting rights en masse to more than 200,000 people convicted of serious crimes.

“Last night I instructed my staff to comply with the court’s order and individually restore the rights of the more than 13,000 Virginians who had successfully registered to vote following my April 22nd executive order,” Mr. McAuliffe said in an email to supporters. “Soon they will have their rights back and will be able to have a voice in their society once and for all.”

Mr. McAuliffe, a Democrat and longtime ally of Hillary Clinton, said he also has ordered his staff to start working through “the entire list of more than 200,000 Virginians whom we have identified as eligible to have their rights restored according to the criteria I have set.”

“We will work around the clock if necessary to make sure every Virginian who has served his or her time and reentered society in search of a second chance can access the rights that are fundamental to being an American,” the governor said.

In a move with huge implications for the presidential election, the state Supreme Court late Friday ruled against Mr. McAuliffe’s earlier executive orders to restore the voting rights of convicted felons, saying the governor had exceeded his authority under the state constitution.

Virginia is considered a battleground state in this year’s presidential election, and Democrats expect that the vast majority of convicted felons who could vote again would vote for Mrs. Clinton rather than Republican nominee Donald Trump.

In another sign of Virginia’s importance in the election, Mrs. Clinton announced Friday night that she has chosen Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia as her running mate.

In a 4-3 decision, the court said it “respectfully disagrees” with Mr. McAuliffe’s position that he has the executive power to make such a sweeping move. The court ordered the cancellation of registration of all voters convicted of a felony who registered under the governor’s executive orders by Aug. 25.

Chief Justice Donald Lemons issued the majority opinion, which said that Mr. McAuliffe’s executive orders had revised a section of the state Constitution.

“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,” Chief Justice Lemons wrote. “To be sure, no Governor of this Commonwealth, until now, has even suggested that such a power exists.”

Mr. McAuliffe said he will use “my executive pen” to sign orders granting voting rights individually for all 200,000-plus convicted felons if necessary.

Jenny Flanagan, an official with Common Cause in Virginia, said the ruling “runs counter to the trend of ensuring the right to vote for all Americans.”

“Restoring rights of formerly incarcerated individuals who have paid their debt to society and are ready to re-engage in civic responsibility should be encouraged. Society should support their connection to community by restoring their voice in our democracy,” she said.

John Whitbeck, chairman of the Virginia Republican Party, said the ruling “sends a clear message — executive power has limits, and no one in Virginia is above the law.”

“Terry McAuliffe’s decision to break with centuries of precedent in a blatant effort to stack the deck for Hillary Clinton in November was nothing but a naked power grab,” Mr. Whitbeck said. “The Supreme Court’s order makes it clear that the Constitution of Virginia, not personal policy preference, rules in Virginia.”

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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