A divided Virginia Supreme Court on Friday overturned a series of executive orders issued by Gov. Terry McAuliffe that had restored the voting rights of more than 200,000 convicted felons. The court, in a 4-to-3 decision, disputed the governor’s assertion that his clemency power was absolute under the state’s Constitution. “We respectfully disagree,” the majority justices wrote. “The clemency power may be broad, but it is not absolute.” The court ordered that the state’s Elections Department and its commissioner delete from voter rolls all felons who may have registered as a result of the executive orders, which were issued on April 22, May 31 and June 24. More than 11,000 felons registered to vote under the orders, The Associated Press reported. The majority opinion, written by Chief Justice Donald W. Lemons, noted that none of the 71 preceding governors had issued a clemency order of any kind — including pardons, reprieves, commutations and restoration orders — to a group of unnamed felons without considering the nature of their crimes.
“To be sure, no governor of this commonwealth, until now, has even suggested that such a power exists,” the majority opinion said. “And the only governors who have seriously considered the question concluded that no such power exists.”
Three justices, William C. Mims, S. Bernard Goodwyn and Cleo E. Powell, filed dissenting opinions. Carl W. Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, said that all the dissenting judges found that the petitioners lacked standing to bring the case and that Justices Goodwyn and Powell also disagreed on the merits.
In a statement on Friday night, the governor said he would sign nearly 13,000 individual orders to restore voter registration rights and would continue to sign orders until he accounted for all 200,000. “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,” he said.
Full Article: Felons Lose Voting Rights as Virginia Supreme Court Rules Against Governor – The New York Times.