Governor Terry McAuliffe has put his most progressive foot forward recently in several attempts to restore the voting rights of 200,000 ex-felons.
But in a 4-3 decision on Friday, the Supreme Court of Virginia backpedalled when they ruthlessly stole those voting rights away.
Gov. McAuliffe recently passed a set of executive orders that allowed ex-cons to regain their full civil rights, a provision that he said worked to aid disenfranchised African-Americans. Forty-six percent of Virginia’s ex-offenders are African American; however, blacks make up less than 20 percent of the state’s population.
According to the Supreme Court, though, McAuliffe lacks the authority to restore the rights of ex-felons who have already served their full sentence.
New Virginia Majority, a non-partisan group that has been working to ensure ex-offenders have the right to vote, released a statement saying the new ruling, “reaffirms the Commonwealth’s Jim Crow legacy.” The group also went on to note that most states allow ex-felons to vote after finishing their sentence(s). Tram Nguyen, the group’s executive director, said:
‘Excluding Virginians from the ballot, even after they’ve paid their debts to society, is a cruel, inhumane reminder of past mistakes. Importantly, today’s ruling validates entrenched interests in the Virginia General Assembly bent on silencing a large swath of Black Virginians in order to maximize their political power.’
Following the Virginia Supreme Court ruling, Gov. McAuliffe released the following statement:
‘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.’
‘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.’
Many Republicans have accused McAuliffe of using the voting rights restoration as a means of helping Hillary Clinton carry the swing state in the fall.
One ex-felon told ThinkProgress about McAuliffe’s orders:
‘Before, I felt like I was left out. I felt like even though I live in America, I wasn’t a part of it.’
He went on, saying:
‘But now, I have the privilege of saying who I want to elect for the presidency. I might be the one vote that can make a difference. I feel like a citizen of the United States again.’