RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s administration urged the state’s highest court on Monday to reject Republican lawmakers’ latest attempt to strip the voting rights of thousands of felons who have completed their sentences.
Solicitor General Stuart Raphael said in court documents that McAuliffe’s new process for restoring felons’ voting rights fully complies with the Virginia Supreme Court’s July decision that said rights must be granted on a case-by-case basis.
“Petitioners’ attack on Gov. McAuliffe’s new approach seems grounded in policy differences, not the Constitution,” Raphael wrote. “Petitioners should not be permitted to use this contempt motion as a vehicle to claim that their policy preferences are somehow constitutionally mandated. “
McAuliffe began restoring voting rights again under a new process last month after the court ruled in July that he overstepped his authority with his sweeping executive order that gave back the rights of more than 200,000 felons.
So far, McAuliffe has restored the rights of nearly 20,000 people using the new process, Raphael said. More than 300 people who registered to vote after their rights were restored under McAuliffe’s first executive order didn’t get them back the second time around because there were active warrants out for them or they were awaiting trial for a criminal offense, Raphael said.
Republican lawmakers who successfully challenged the governor’s previous executive order asked the Virginia Supreme Court last month to hold the Democratic governor in contempt, accusing him of violating the court order. Republicans say there’s no practical difference between McAuliffe’s new process and his previous action struck down by the court.
Raphael rejected the GOP’s argument that governors can only restore the rights of those who request it, saying there’s no such requirement in the Constitution.
Furthermore, Raphael said that again canceling the voter registrations of felons whose rights have been restored would “lead to electoral chaos in the remaining weeks before the general election.”
Matt Moran, a spokesman for GOP House Speaker William Howell, said Monday that their attorneys are reviewing the administration’s filing.