RICHMOND — The Virginia Supreme Court next month will hear a legal challenge to Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s order restoring the voting rights of more than 200,000 felons.
The court will take up the lawsuit, filed by state Republicans, on July 19 in Richmond during a special session scheduled to accommodate this and other cases.
The decision came in response to Republicans’ request for an accelerated timeline. They would like the court to issue a ruling well ahead of the November general election.
In their lawsuit, House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford), Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. (R-James City) and four voters argued that McAuliffe (D) could not legally restore rights to nearly a quarter-million felons with one sweeping executive order. Until now, governors restored voting rights to felons on a case-by-case basis.
“We are pleased the Supreme Court recognizes the urgency of our challenge to Governor McAuliffe’s unprecedented and unconstitutional expansion of executive power,” Howell said in a statement.
Republicans want the court to cancel the registrations of all felons who have signed up to vote since McAuliffe’s April 22 order. As of Tuesday, that number was 5,816, according to the state Department of Elections.
Republican leaders have accused McAuliffe of trying to add potential voters to the rolls to bolster the presidential bid of his friend Hillary Clinton.
McAuliffe framed the order as a removal of the last vestige of laws such as poll taxes and literacy tests that disproportionately affected the voting rights of African Americans. One in 4 African Americans in Virginia had been banned from voting because of laws restricting the rights of those with convictions.
McAuliffe’s executive order restores voting rights to all felons who have completed their sentences and have been released from supervised probation or parole.
It also allows ex-felons to serve on juries, run for public office and apply for restoration of their gun rights.
Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) has said the state constitution “empowers the governor to restore rights en masse.”
If the state Supreme Court disagrees, Herring said, McAuliffe will simply issue individual restoration orders to hundreds of thousands of felons.