High court allows McAuliffe to restore felons’ rights on case-by-case basis

Published: Sep. 15, 2016 at 8:16 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe is now able to restore the rights of former felons on a case-by-case basis after the state's high court ruled against Virginia Republicans and their attempt to hold the governor in contempt.

In a one-page ruling, the Virginia Supreme Court denied a motion filed by House Speaker William Howell earlier this month that would've held the governor in contempt following his action in late August where he announced the "case-by-case" restoration of former felons' civil rights.

In a statement Thursday, McAuliffe was satisfied with the outcome.

"I am pleased that the Supreme Court has dismissed the case Republicans filed in their latest attempt to prevent individuals who have served their time having a full voice in our society," he said. "Restoring these Virginians' civil rights is morally the right thing to do, and we will continue to move forward via a process that is in full compliance with the court's July 22 ruling and the precedent of previous governors."

The month prior, the Virginia Supreme Court overturned McAuliffe's initial executive order that saw over 200,000 former felons having their rights restored.

At that time, the judges remarked that, "Never before have any of the prior 71 Virginia Governors issued a clemency order of any kind…to a class of unnamed felons without regard for the nature of the crimes or any other individual circumstances relevant to the request," adding, "no Governor of this Commonwealth, until now, has even suggested that such a power exists."

Following the high court's July ruling, McAuliffe announced during an Aug. 22 press conference that he and his team had begun restoring the civil rights of former Virginia felons in compliance with the Virginia Supreme Court's order. At that time, McAuliffe said he had restored rights to nearly 13,000 Virginians who had previously registered to vote.

"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 remarked.

House Speaker Howell also spoke out following the Virginia Supreme Court's ruling, saying Republicans were disappointed by the news, but they respect the court's order.

"Throughout this process, our goal was to hold Governor McAuliffe accountable to the Constitution and the Rule of Law," Howell said in a statement. "The governor stretched the bounds of the Virginia Constitution and sought to expand executive power in a manner we viewed as inappropriate and reckless. The Supreme Court strongly rebuked the governor's executive overreach in the original case."

Howell went on to say that the General Assembly will now have to review the state Constitution and it's provisions on felon voting.

"The current provisions of the constitution are vague, vulnerable to executive overreach, and insufficiently transparent," he said. "Several proposals have already emerged and we expect others to come forward. I have asked a number of House members to begin evaluating these proposals as we move toward next session and expect a robust discussion when the General Assembly convenes."

On the governor's website, McAuliffe details the process for qualified individuals to have their rights restored by the Commonwealth.

  • SOC is giving priority consideration to individuals who request restoration of their civil rights.  Those wishing to expedite restoration of their own rights may contact the SOC through the website
  • In addition, the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office has identified individuals who may meet the Governor’s standards for restoration: individuals who have been convicted of a felony and are no longer incarcerated or under active supervision by the Department of Corrections (DOC) or other state agency.
  • Prioritizing by date since release from supervision and starting with those who have been released from supervision the longest, SOC will conduct a thorough review of each of these individuals, checking their records with Virginia State Police, DOC, State Compensation Board, Department of Juvenile Justice, Department of Criminal Justice Service, and Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services to ensure the individual meets the Governor’s standards for restoration of rights.
  • In addition to confirming completion of incarceration and supervised release, the SOC considers factors such as active warrants, pre-trial hold, and other concerns that may be flagged by law enforcement.  Individuals in these circumstances or any with concerns about the accuracy of information analyzed from law enforcement will be held from our streamlined consideration process for further review.
  • Upon completion of its review, SOC will make recommendations to the Governor to restore the rights of individuals who have been determined to meet his standards.
  • The Governor will review SOC’s analysis of each individual’s record and will make the final decision on proposed candidates for restoration of rights.
  • Upon the Governor’s approval, SOC will issue and mail personalized restoration orders.
  • SOC will release the names of newly restored individuals monthly. The list will be made available by request. The full list will also be included in Senate Document 2 (SD2) as it has been historically.

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