Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring has asked the Supreme Court of Virginia to dismiss a Republican lawsuit seeking to overturn Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s order that restored political rights to 206,000 felons. In a 51-page response filed with the court Monday, Herring’s office said the potential for error in the sweeping administrative effort is not a legal argument against the order or the governor’s clemency powers. “Executive judgment is required to determine whether the circumstances warrant a categorical approach, and whether the benefits outweigh the risks of error,” state Solicitor General Stuart Raphael wrote in support of the state’s motion to dismiss. “And that judgment is properly committed to the sole discretion of the elected chief executive, whether the governor of Virginia or the president of the United States.”
The Republican lawsuit — brought by House Speaker William J. Howell, R-Stafford, and Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr., R-James City — claims McAuliffe exceeded his authority by restoring rights to all felons who meet certain criteria and doing away with case-by-case review and individual orders.
Republicans — who have accused McAuliffe of attempting to boost the presidential prospects of his friend Hillary Clinton by adding more voters to the rolls in a swing state — have pointed to language in the state constitution saying no convicted felon can vote until “his” rights have been restored.
The state’s response argues the challenge relies on a linguistic technicality, saying the singular “his” is essentially a form of shorthand that can be interpreted to have plural meaning.