The Virginia Supreme Court erred earlier this month when it ruled that Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s blanket executive order restoring the voting rights of more than 200,000 people who had been barred from voting for felony convictions violated the state Constitution. The poorly reasoned ruling — which holds that the governor can legally restore voting rights only on a case-by-case basis — has no legitimate basis in the state Constitution. To his credit, Mr. McAuliffe has vowed to reinstate voting rights to those Virginians even if it means signing the restoration orders one at a time. When he issued the blanket order in April, Mr. McAuliffe acknowledged what politicians in Virginia and elsewhere have long lacked the courage to admit: The disenfranchisement law was expressly designed to permanently bar as many African-Americans as possible from the polls.
White political leaders who amended the state Constitution for this purpose in 1902 made no bones about that, saying that the goal was to “eliminate the darkey as a political factor in this state in less than five years, so that in no single county in the commonwealth will there be the least concern felt for the complete supremacy of the white race in government affairs.” Another leading politician said that the laws would ensure “the elimination of every Negro voter who can be gotten rid of, legally, without materially impairing the numerical strength of the white electorate.”