Constitutionality of Felon Rights Restoration Questioned in Virginia Supreme Court Hearing

Jul 19, 2016

Members of the Virginia Supreme Court are considering a challenge to Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe’s executive order restoring voting rights to more than 200,000 former felons.

Credit Associated Press

The stately Supreme Court chamber was packed with lawyers and lawmakers who were hanging on every legal argument the justices raised during the one-hour hearing. But the courtroom also had a number of former felons, including Louise Benjamin from Richmond. She admits she made some bad decisions that led to her malicious wounding conviction. But she says she walked away from the Supreme Court oral arguments hopeful that justices will uphold the governor’s controversial executive order.

“I mean I’m just waiting on them to do what they’ve got to do so I can get my rights back."

“Do you feel hopeful that’s going to happen?"

“Yes I feel very hopeful. Very hopeful."

Republicans say the governor does not have the authority to restore all 200,000 former felons with one sweeping executive order. They say he has to consider each and every case individually. Republican Delegate Rob Bell of Charlottesville:

“No governor prior to Governor McAuliffe has done this, and the last two — Governor Kaine and Governor McDonnell — specifically explored doing it and their legal teams concluded that you can’t. Not that it’s a good idea or a bad idea but just you can’t. The Constitution doesn’t allow it."

This case isn’t just academic. It could end up being tipping the balance of power in a key swing state during a hotly contested presidential election.