RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe announced Monday his plan to review each Virginia felon who wishes to have his or her voting rights restored after having served their prison sentence.
"Restoring the rights of Virginians who have served their time and live, work and pay taxes in our communities is one of the pressing civil rights issues of our day,” Governor McAuliffe said at the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial in Richmond. "I have met these men and women and know how sincerely they want to contribute to our society as full citizens again."
The governor announced he had already restored voting rights to nearly 13,000 Virginia felons who registered to vote after he initially restored those rights in April with an executive order.
The order automatically restored voting rights to approximately 206,000 Virginia felons. It was then challenged by state lawmakers and ultimately struck down by the Virginia Supreme Court.
Writing for a 4-3 court, Chief Justice Donald W. Lemons held that the "assertion that a Virginia governor has the power to grant blanket, group pardons" is "irreconcilable" with the Constitution of Virginia.
"The process I have announced today fully complies with the Virginia Supreme Court’s order and the precedent of governors before me. It also reflects the clear authority the Governor possesses to use his own discretion to restore rights of people who have served their time," Governor McAuliffe continued.
He said the names of those who have their voting rights restored would be made public on the 15th of every month.
In response, House Speaker Bill Howell (R - Fredericksburg) said while Virginians believe in second chances, he highlighted the "numerous mistakes" Governor McAuliffe made when he attempted to restore voting rights earlier this year.
"The General Assembly will carefully review Governor McAuliffe's process to determine if he followed the legal requirements. From the beginning, we have done nothing more than hold the governor accountable to the constitution and the rule of law," Speaker Howell said. "We are also committed to holding the governor accountable on the merits of his policy. Undoubtedly, the governor has restored the rights of some deserving citizens. But, there is also no doubt that he has restored the rights of some odious criminals. The people of full Virginia deserve a full explanation of the policy, specifically why he is restoring rights to habitual offenders, those who have not yet paid back their victims, and the Commonwealth's worst sex offenders."
The governor said this was not a partisan issue and urged lawmakers to support the cause.
"It is my hope that the approach we announced today marks the end of the partisan battles that have been waged over this issue so that every Virginian leader can play a role in welcoming these individuals back to society and building a Commonwealth of greater justice, equality and opportunity for every family."