Gov. Terry McAuliffe rejected Republican leaders’ call Tuesday for a special legislative session on the governor’s order restoring voting rights for 206,000 felons, saying the legislature has “no specific role” in the matter. The back-and-forth escalated a constitutional clash that could ultimately land in court as Republicans continue to seek ways to mount a legal challenge to Friday’s sweeping executive action. In a letter to the governor, House of Delegates Speaker William J. Howell, R-Stafford, and Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr., R-James City, said McAuliffe, a Democrat, had shown a “flagrant disregard” for the Virginia Constitution. They also called on the governor to release a list of names of all people whose voting and civil rights were restored by Friday’s order, including details about their crimes.
“This is a matter of great consequence to the people of the commonwealth of Virginia,” Howell and Norment wrote. “The people, through their elected representatives, deserve the opportunity to have their voices heard on this matter.” In response, McAuliffe’s office said the governor alone has constitutional authority to restore felons’ rights.
“It is worth noting that today’s letter does not make any specific constitutional or legal argument but rather is a generic and unsubstantiated political attack,” said McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy.
The state constitution gives the governor power to call a special session, but the legislature can convene itself with two-thirds support of both chambers. With Republicans holding a narrow 21-18 advantage in the Senate, a special session is unlikely without the governor’s consent.