RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia’s highest court on Thursday rejected Republican lawmakers’ latest challenge to Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s efforts to restore voting rights to thousands of felons who have completed their sentences.
The Virginia Supreme Court denied a motion that sought to hold McAuliffe in contempt for violating a court order with his new process for restoring felons’ voting rights. The court did not explain its reason for denying the motion.
McAuliffe applauded the decision, saying he hopes it puts to rest the lengthy legal battle over his bid to let felons who have served their time cast ballots.
“It is my hope that the court’s validation of the process we are using will convince Republicans to drop their divisive efforts to prevent Virginians from regaining their voting rights and focus their energy and resources on making Virginia a better place to live for the people who elected all of us to lead,” McAuliffe said in a statement.
The state’s Supreme Court ruled in July that McAuliffe overstepped his bounds with an executive order issued in April that had restored the rights of roughly 200,000 felons. The court said governors cannot restore voting rights en masse and must consider them on a case-by-case basis.
McAuliffe began restoring the rights again under a new process after the court ruling. He stressed that his administration was processing felons’ rights restoration orders individually to comply with the decision, but Republicans argued there is no practical difference between his new process and his previous action struck down by the court.
GOP House Speaker William Howell said Thursday that Republicans are disappointed, but respect the Supreme Court’s decision.
“Throughout this process, our goal was to hold Gov. McAuliffe accountable to the Constitution and the Rule of Law,” Howell said in a statement. “The governor stretched the bounds of the Virginia Constitution and sought to expand executive power in a manner we viewed as inappropriate and reckless.”
Republicans have called McAuliffe’s voting rights effort a bald-faced political move aimed at getting more Democrats to the polls in November to help presidential candidate Hillary Clinton win the critical swing state. In addition to letting felons’ vote, the restoration order let them serve on a jury, run for public office and become a notary public.
McAuliffe’s administration said in court documents earlier this week that only a “small fraction” of the more than 200,000 felons will have their rights restored under the new case-by-case review by the Oct. 17 deadline for voting registration. As of earlier this week, McAuliffe has restored the rights of nearly 20,000 people under the new process, his administration said.
Follow Alanna Durkin Richer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/aedurkinricher. Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/journalist/alanna-durkin-richer .