Republican legislative leaders on Thursday said they will take Gov. Terry McAuliffe to court once again over his efforts to restore voting rights to felons. The GOP leaders filed a contempt-of-court motion against McAuliffe (D), who last week announced that he had individually restored rights to 13,000 felons and was working to do the same for a total of more than 200,000. McAuliffe’s action last week came in response to a July ruling by the Virginia Supreme Court, which threw out a blanket clemency order that he had issued in April. The governor has described his latest move as a way to comply with the court’s order while addressing “an issue of basic justice.” But Republicans argue in the court filing that the practical effect of McAuliffe’s workaround is the same as the original, sweeping clemency order that the state Supreme Court declared unconstitutional.
“After a thorough legal review, it is clear that Governor McAuliffe has once again illegally suspended the Constitution of Virginia,” House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) said in a written statement. “There is no practical difference between his latest action and his first set of executive orders. . . . The governor will undoubtedly continue to falsely demagogue our motivations, but we cannot stand idly by. We have an obligation to check the excesses of executive power and hold the governor accountable to the Constitution and the rule of law.”
Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment (R-James City) said the motion was necessary to force the governor to comply with the rule of law. “I believe in redemption,” Norment said in a written statement. “And there is a way, within the bounds of the law, to ensure those deserving of relief have their rights restored. But no matter how noble the goal, allowing the Governor — or any government official — to usurp the Rule of Law is detrimental to our system of self-government. It cannot stand.”