Republican lawmakers in Virginia will file a lawsuit challenging Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s decision to allow more than 200,000 convicted felons to vote in November, GOP leaders said Monday. Republicans argue the governor has overstepped his constitutional authority with a clear political ploy designed to help the campaign of his friend and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in the important swing state this fall. “Gov. McAuliffe’s flagrant disregard for the Constitution of Virginia and the rule of law must not go unchecked,” Senate Republican Leader Thomas Norment said in a statement. He added that McAuliffe’s predecessors and previous attorneys general examined this issue and concluded Virginia’s governor can’t issue blanket restorations.
Republicans have hired Charles J. Cooper, a Washington, D.C., attorney known for defending California’s ban on gay marriage before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. GOP leaders did not say when they will file the lawsuit. They said it would not be paid for using taxpayer dollars.
The pending legal fight highlights the important role Virginia will likely play in this year’s presidential contest. Clinton could benefit from a surge of new minority voters, who typically vote Democratic. Although even if all the 200,000 ex-felons signed up, they would represent less than 1 percent of total registered voters in the state. McAuliffe has said the move was not politically motivated.
A lawyer for former Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine said in 2010 that the restoration of rights must be done on a case-by-case basis. A blanket order restoring voting rights would be a “rewrite of the law,” Mark Rubin, a counselor to Kaine, said in a letter at the time.