Thursday, September 1, 2016

Motion for Contempt Against McAuliffe for Defying Felon Voting Rights Restoration Order

Yesterday, Republican members of the Virginia General Assembly filed a motion for contempt against Gov. Terry McAuliffe for defying the Virginia Supreme Court's mandamus order that invalidated McAuliffe's executive orders that purported to restore voting rights to convicted felons on a blanket basis (internal citations omitted):
Petitioners respectfully request that the Court order Respondents to show cause why they should not be held in contempt for defying the writ of mandamus that this Court issued on July 22, 2016. 
The Court struck down three executive orders restoring political rights to all felons who had completed their terms of incarceration and supervised release, holding that the Governor had unconstitutionally suspended the felon-disenfranchisement provision of Article II, Section 1 for “an indiscriminately configured class of approximately 206,000 convicted felons, without any regard for their individual circumstances and without any specific request by individuals seeking such relief.” Governor McAuliffe immediately denounced this Court’s decision, vowing to accomplish precisely the same result simply by issuing individual restoration orders for precisely the same class of approximately 206,000 felons, again without any regard for their individual circumstances and without any specific request by individuals seeking such relief. . . . 
On Monday, August 22, 2016, Governor McAuliffe announced that he had issued individual restoration orders to the approximately 13,000 felons who had registered to vote pursuant to his earlier unconstitutional executive orders, notwithstanding this Court’s order cancelling their registrations. The Governor also announced that he will issue new restoration orders to the remaining approximately 200,000 felons who meet the same criteria set forth in his invalidated April 22 executive order—that is, those who have completed their terms of incarceration and supervised release. . . .  
There is no substantive difference between the Governor’s current actions and his three executive orders suspending Article II, Section 1, that this Court invalidated in its mandamus decision. . . .
The motion points out that more than the issue of felon voting rights restoration is at stake in Gov. McAuliffe's actions; he threatens the rule of law by purporting to set himself above the law:
The Governor has openly declared his resolve to evade the Court’s order. The same day that the Court issued the writ, Governor McAuliffe proclaimed that “the Virginia Supreme Court has placed Virginia as an outlier in the struggle for civil and human rights” and announced that he simply “cannot accept” the Court’s ruling. . . . And he announced that he and the other Respondents will evade the Court’s decision prohibiting him from restoring the rights of this “indiscriminately configured class” of over 200,000 felons, stating: “At the end of the day, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. . . . [B]y two weeks [from now], all 206,000 [felons] will have their rights back.”  
In announcing last week his new plan to unilaterally re-enfranchise 206,000 felons, Governor McAuliffe again expressed his disdain for this Court’s decision. He claimed that “the Court dismissed the clear text of the Constitution,” and instead based its holding solely on “the way things have always been done in the Old Dominion.” . . . And most importantly, while claiming to be acting in conformity with this Court’s decision, the Governor emphasized that he “remain[s] resolute in [his] commitment,” to override the Constitution’s felon disenfranchisement provision by again restoring voting rights to approximately 206,000 felons who have completed their sentences and periods of supervised release, notwithstanding this Court’s order prohibiting Respondents from doing just that . . . .  
Governor McAuliffe is entitled to disagree with our Constitution and with this Court’s rulings interpreting it, but “[i]t is not for him to set himself above the law and go his own way because he deems the law’s requirements to be unwise or its restraints vexatious. In such manner does a government of laws become a government of men.” 
We applaud the Republican members of the Virginia General Assembly for standing up for the rule of law, for the text of the Virginia Constitution, and for the integrity of Virginia's elections. 

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