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After Forcing Superb Female Justice Off State Supreme Court, Virginia GOP Celebrates Blocking People from Voting

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First, Virginia Republicans back in March kicked a superbly-qualified woman – Jane Roush – off the Virginia State Supreme Court and replace her with a Ken Cuccinelli endorsee (Stephen McCullough).

The Virginia General Assembly elected Court of Appeals Judge Stephen R. McCullough to the Supreme Court of Virginia on Thursday, ending a seven-month political standoff with Gov. Terry McAuliffe over a vacancy on the high court.

McCullough’s election to a 12-year term effectively, if not amicably, resolves a bitter, partisan power struggle over a vacancy on the seven-member court that began when Republican lawmakers refused to renew McAuliffe’s interim appointment of Justice Jane Marum Roush.

And now, Virginia Republicans have received their “reward,” a ruling by the now-more-conservative State Supreme Court striking down “executive orders issued by Gov. Terry McAuliffe that would have allowed more than 200,000 felons to register to vote and participate in the November presidential election.” To read this ridiculous, partisan 4-3 decision, click here. Why “ridiculous?” Because the Virginia constitution plainly and explicitly grants the governor the authority “to remove political disabilities consequent upon conviction” for felonies. Period. That’s the plain language, which conservatives always claim to care about, except when they want to do things like prevent people from voting.

Speaking of which, that’s exactly what Republicans were up to here, and exactly what they’re celebrating: making it as hard as possible for people to vote. As Virginia House Democratic Leader David Toscano tweeted a few minutes ago, “Tonight, is celebrating stripping 206,000+ Virginians of their voting rights.” And as reporter Graham Moomaw tweeted, “Supreme Court decision striking McAuliffe order means 11.6K felons will have registrations cancelled by Aug. 25.” Great, huh?

So how did Republicans react? Take a guess! Here are a few:

  • Trump state chair Corey Stewart: “The Virginia Supreme Court voted down, in a 4-3 decision, our lawless Governor’s sweeping unconstitutional order to restore rights to all felons. His attempt to use his office for political purpose was blocked further proving the importance of having judges who respect the constitution.”
  • Virginia State Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R) and Virginia House Speaker Bill Howell (R-ALEC): “The Supreme Court of Virginia delivered a major victory for the Constitution, the rule of law and the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
  • Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-10th): “Gov. McAuliffe’s unconstitutional blanket felon voting restoration E.O. struck down by the VA S.C.”

Getting the picture here? That’s right; Virginia Republicans are celebrating the fact that they: a) rammed a right winger onto the State Supreme Court; b) then watched as that Supreme Court ignored the plain language of the state constitution in order to deprive a lot of Virginians of their right to vote.

So now what? Let’s hope that Virginia Attorney Lloyd Snook’s analysis is correct:

As I read Chief Justice Lemons’ opinion, if Terry were to print a list — even 10,000 at a time — he would be OK. The court seemed generally chagrined in oral argument that the Governor wouldn’t or couldn’t produce a list of the 206,000. I think that was the fatal flaw in the Governor’s case. From page 11 —

That said, we emphasize that our standing conclusion rests heavily on the unprecedented circumstances of this case. The sweeping scope of the Executive Orders precludes any assertion that its vote-dilution effect should be dismissed as de minimis. The strength of this point is compounded by the fact that the Executive Orders identify none of the 206,000 felons by name, and, to date, Governor McAuliffe has withheld “the administration’s list of felons whose rights were restored” under the Executive Orders.

If this analysis is correct, which hopefully it is, then perhaps Virginia Republicans’ celebration will prove short-lived. Also note Gov. McAuliffe’s vow that if the Supreme Court struck down his restoration of voting rights order, he would “fire up my auto pen, and I will send out 206,000 letters restoring their rights.” Do it!

  • Progress Virginia Statement on Howell v. McAuliffe

    Progress Virginia released the following statement from executive director Anna Scholl in response to the Supreme Court of Virginia’s ruling in Howell v. McAuliffe.

    “It’s a sad and disappointing day when the Virginia Supreme Court bows to political pressure from right wing ideologues who would rather bar citizens from the polls than compete for every vote.

    “Unfortunately, the fact that some of these same justices will be asking the politicians who backed this lawsuit to renew their terms on the court in as few as four short years raises serious questions about whether law or politics really guided this decision. And, in fact, the deciding vote in the decision came from Justice Stephen McCullough, Howell and Norment’s hand-picked Justice who was appointed just months ago after they removed an extraordinarily qualified justice from the court.

    “At the end of the day, we trust and support Governor McAuliffe’s commitment to sign 206,000 individual orders if that’s what is necessary to ensure individuals who have paid their debt to society returned to the community are able to participate as full citizens. It’s disgraceful some politicians would go to such lengths as these to block citizens from participating in our democracy and we will not less their crass partisan games stand. We’ll be happy to send Governor McAuliffe a pen to start signing orders.

    “Speaker Howell and Leader Norment have the opportunity to end this injustice and do away with law rooted in the Jim Crow south that disproportionately block black citizens from the polls. If this suit was truly about principle and not manipulating elections, then we look forward to these politicians putting their money where their mouths are advancing a constitutional amendment to permanent restore voting rights next legislative session.”

  • Senator McEachin Responds to Supreme Court Ruling on Rights Restoration

    Democratic Caucus Chair calls for legislative fix to allow automatic rights restoration

    Richmond – Senator A. Donald McEachin today reacted to the Virginia Supreme Court striking down Governor McAuliffe’s executive action to restore the voting rights of more than 200,000 former felons. Sen. McEachin said:

    “Our democracy is stronger when more citizens can engage and participate. When a person has served his or her time and is a productive member of our community, that person should have the right to participate in our democracy — including, first and foremost, the right to vote.

    “While I am disappointed and passionately disagree with the Court’s decision, I respect their jurisdiction and authority. I urge Governor McAuliffe to do all he can, under the system now in place, to expeditiously restore the rights of as many as possible who have earned that opportunity.

    “Moreover, I call on the General Assembly to change our system for the better. Year after year, my Democratic colleagues and I have supported efforts to allow automatic restoration of rights. Year after year, those efforts have failed — if not in the Senate, then in the Republican-controlled House. I urge my colleagues across the aisle to ensure that next year, the outcome is different.”

  • ACLU of Virginia Exec. Director Claire Guthrie Gastanaga:

    I hope that the Governor has his pen ready and that he makes good on his promise to issue 206,000 individual restoration of rights orders.

    I also hope that everyone in the Commonwealth who believes in second chances and redemption will come together and help persuade the legislature that it is time to give Virginia voters the chance to vote on repealing the constitutional provision that the Court interpreted today and end the permanent disenfranchisement of any persons.

  • Gov., McAuliffe statement on Virginia Supreme Court decision:

    “Once again, the Virginia Supreme Court has placed Virginia as an outlier in the struggle for civil and human rights. It is a disgrace that the Republican leadership of Virginia would file a lawsuit to deny more than 200,000 of their own citizens the right to vote. And I cannot accept that this overtly political action could succeed in suppressing the voices of many thousands of men and women who had rejoiced with their families earlier this year when their rights were restored.

    “Forty states give citizens who have made mistakes and paid their debt to society a straightforward process for restoring voting rights. I remain committed to moving past our Commonwealth’s history of injustice to embrace an honest process for restoring the rights of our citizens, and I believe history and the vast majority of Virginians are on our side.

    “Despite the Court’s ruling, we have the support of the state’s four leading constitutional experts, including A.E. Dick Howard, who drafted the current Virginia Constitution. They are convinced that our action is within the constitutional authority granted to the Office of the Governor.

    “The men and women whose voting rights were restored by my executive action should not be alarmed. I will expeditiously sign nearly 13,000 individual orders to restore the fundamental rights of the citizens who have had their rights restored and registered to vote. And I will continue to sign orders until I have completed restoration for all 200,000 Virginians. My faith remains strong in all of our citizens to choose their leaders, and I am prepared to back up that faith with my executive pen. The struggle for civil rights has always been a long and difficult one, but the fight goes on.”

  • Max Shapiro

    This is all on McAluliffe. He has a list. He built a searchable database, so a list is a non-issue. The Governor refused to release the list that he has, that’s on him.

    In March of this year he sent exactly the kind of list he needed to produce to the Senate restoring the rights of thousands of people. He could have made this list, sent it to the court, and been fine. Why he chose not to do so blows my mind.

    http://leg2.state.va.us/dls/h&sdocs.nsf/By+Year/SD22016/$file/SD2.pdf