Leaders of Virginia’s House and Senate went straight to the state’s highest court on Monday in a bid to reverse Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s sweeping order to restore voting rights to 206,000 felons. Skipping lower courts, they filed a lawsuit directly with the Supreme Court of Virginia, contending that Mr. McAuliffe, a Democrat, exceeded his authority in April when he restored voting rights to felons en masse instead of individually. The lawsuit — bankrolled by private donations and political funds, Republicans noted, not taxpayer funds — presents a complex constitutional question with the urgency of presidential election-year politics. Republicans are seeking an expedited review so that reinstated ex-cons who have registered to vote can be stripped from the rolls ahead of November. Prior Virginia governors have taken up the cause of restoring felons’ voting rights, but none with anything close to Mr. McAuliffe’s scale and speed.
“From Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson to Tim Kaine and Bob McDonnell, every Governor of Virginia has understood the clemency power to authorize the Governor to grant clemency on an individualized basis only,” says the lawsuit, filed on behalf of Republican House Speaker William Howell, Republican Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment and four other Virginia voters.
The lawsuit comes in response to Mr. McAuliffe’s executive order to restore voting rights to all felons who had completed their sentences and been released from supervised probation or parole.
The governor contends his move helps former convicts to fully reenter society. Republicans call it a favor to Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton, Mr. McAuliffe’s close friend and political ally, who could benefit from higher numbers of minority voters in the crucial swing state.