These things happen often enough these days that they can be easy to ignore. Lawmakers from one party vehemently disagree with the actions or policies of another and file suit. Sometimes the suits amount to a last-ditch effort to stop something they consider potentially disastrous. Sometimes they amount to little more than political grandstanding in court venues. And sometimes, they are really a combination of both, wrapped in highly principled talk about the separation of powers and abating tyranny. On Monday, the leaders of Virginia’s Republican-controlled state House and Senate filed suit against Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, in a bid to stop an executive order that would restore the voting rights of an estimated 20,000 Virginia residents who have been convicted of a felony. McAuliffe wants to restore voting rights to those who have completed their sentences and any ordered time on probation or parole. These, in short, are the people who have officially paid for their crimes but, under Virginia law, remain barred from the ballot box. And state Republicans insist that their favored list of vaunted Virginians — including Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, former Democratic Virginia governor Timother M. Kaine (now a senator) and former Republican governor Robert F. McDonnell — would agree.
Interestingly, McDonnell is now himself a convicted felon. Early last year, he became the first Virginia governor to be convicted of a felony, after a federal court found McDonnell and his wife guilty of political corruption-related accusations, such as receiving improper gifts and loans. (But we digress.)
The problem is that this kind of policy remains much more prevalent in the South, that felon disenfranchisement laws were crafted with the intent to disenfranchise as many blacks as possiblejust after the Civil War and today continue to have largely the same effect. And regardless of the more modern reasons offered today in states with large black populations, such as Alabama, as many as 15 percent of black Americans can’t participate in elections because of these laws.