GOP sues over Virginia governor's felon voting order

The Democrat felon voting express train in Virginia hit a sharp curve on Monday when Republican lawmakers went to the state's highest court to derail it.

Constitutional attorney Charles J. Cooper's law firm filed a lawsuit on behalf of Republican leaders in the Virginia legislature asking the state Supreme Court to block 206,000 felons from voting in November.

The lawsuit Howell v. McAuliffe states that Democrat Gov. Terry McAuliffe abused the separation of powers in an April 22 executive order that gives a blanket restoration to convicts who've completed their sentences.

McAuliffe is countermanding longtime policy, in which Virginia's governors have restored voting rights by individual cases, the suit states.  The felons who received the blanket amnesty include inmates convicted of rape, murder, and other major offenses.

It's worth noting that McAuliffe, who served as a fundraiser for Bill and Hillary Clinton, ignored the fact that his two predecessors, Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican Bob McDonnell, both attempted blanket amnesty for some felons but abided by opinions from state attorneys general ruling this out as unconstitutional. 

The current hyper-partisan attorney general, Democrat Mark Herring, who refused to defend the state's constitutional marriage amendment, has no such qualms, which is why the GOP leaders resorted to the lawsuit.

"In his blanket restoration, the Governor didn't consider the violence of the offense, the number of offenses, or whether the offender has paid his victim's medical bills," said a press release from Virginia 58th District delegate Rob Bell.  "The executive order covers felons who are still on unsupervised probation. It makes 40,000 violent felons eligible to sit on juries, and is already being used by a defendant accused of murdering a state trooper to demand that these felons be included in his jury pool."

"Gov. McAuliffe's executive order defines the plain text of the Constitution, flouts the separation of powers, and has no precedent in the annals of Virginia history," the suit says.  "The governor simply may not, with the stroke of the pen, unilaterally suspend and amend the Constitution."  The state is required to ensure that mental competence has been established, which cannot be done except on an individual basis, the suit notes.

Plaintiffs in the suit, filed Monday by Cooper & Kirk PLLC, are House speaker William Howell and Senate majority leader Thomas Norment, along with four other Virginia voters.

The suit asks the justices to direct the state elections board to prohibit registration of felons and to cancel any such registrations since April 22.  As of last week, election officials said nearly 4,000 felons had signed up to vote, various media reported.

"By seizing a lawmaking power that the People have denied to him," the suit states, "Governor McAuliffe has … violated the separation of powers, a 'principle essentially and indispensably necessary to [our government's] existence as a free government.'"

Robert Knight is a senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union.  Charles J. Cooper is on the ACRU's Policy Board.