The Supreme Court of Virginia on Thursday rejected a Republican effort to have Gov. Terry McAuliffe held in contempt over his ongoing efforts to restore voting rights for felons. In a unanimous one-page order, the Supreme Court said it would not force McAuliffe to return to court to prove that he is complying with the court’s July 22 ruling that struck down the governor’s first attempt to restore voting rights to more than 200,000 felons via executive order. The court also said it would not allow Republican General Assembly leaders to seek documents from the McAuliffe administration through a new discovery process. The ruling brings to an end the legal fight that cast uncertainty over thousands of ex-offenders just weeks before early voting gets underway for the presidential election.
In a written statement, McAuliffe said he will “continue to move forward” with the revised process he adopted after the court ruling to grant political rights to would-be voters on an individual basis. “It is my hope that the court’s validation of the process we are using will convince Republicans to drop their divisive efforts to prevent Virginians from regaining their voting rights and focus their energy and resources on making Virginia a better place to live for the people who elected all of us to lead,” McAuliffe said.
House Speaker William J. Howell, R-Stafford, said Republicans were “disappointed” by the ruling but respect the court’s order. “The governor stretched the bounds of the Virginia Constitution and sought to expand executive power in a manner we viewed as inappropriate and reckless,” Howell said in a written statement. “The Supreme Court strongly rebuked the governor’s executive overreach in the original case.”
Howell and Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr., R-James City, sued McAuliffe in May, arguing that the governor overstepped his authority by issuing a blanket order restoring political rights to 206,000 felons whose names the governor kept secret. The Supreme Court sided with the Republican leaders in July, ordering state officials to cancel the voter registrations of nearly 13,000 people who had registered under McAuliffe’s invalidated order.