Right Hooks

McAuliffe in Legal Trouble Over Felon Gambit

Will the Virginia governor be held in contempt?

Jordan Candler · Sep. 1, 2016

Earlier this spring, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe pushed the bounds of executive authority in a strategic effort to turn Virginia blue. With a few strokes of his pen, McAuliffe reinstated the voting rights of some 200,000 ex-felons. The move didn’t pass muster with the Virginia Supreme Court, however, which ruled against blanket clemency in late July. In short, the law stipulates that pardons are legally justified only if they are applied on a case-by-case basis. Treating nearly a quarter-million ex-cons as a single entity doesn’t count. But McAuliffe is an expert Clintonista, so in blatant defiance, he recently “announced … that he has individually restored voting rights to 13,000 felons and is working on doing the same for a total of about 200,000,” The Washington Post reported. It went on to note, “Republican legislative leaders who successfully sued over McAuliffe’s original order said they will examine his latest restoration effort.”

Now we learn that McAuliffe is being accused of contempt. The Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky says, “Virginia state legislators have filed a motion with the Virginia Supreme Court asking for an order requiring Gov. Terry McAuliffe to ‘show cause’ why he should not be held in contempt for violating the court’s July 22 order.” Spakovsky provides additional context regarding the crux of the issue:

This motion for contempt follows McAuliffe’s Aug. 22 press conference in which he announced that he had again restored the voting rights of 13,000 felons who had registered to vote after he issued three blanket restoration orders earlier in the summer. His press announcement said that “individual restoration orders were printed with the Governor’s signature.” How much of an individualized review could be given by McAuliffe to these 13,000 felons in the four weeks between the Supreme Court’s July 22 decision and his press conference on Aug. 22 was certainly in question. And that is what the contempt motion focuses on — the lack of any real individualized review of these felons’ cases.

Spakovsky suggests that “[a] governor being held in contempt by a state supreme court for such behavior is rare and would be a history-making event in Virginia.” McAuliffe’s autocratic behavior is deplorable, but he’s hardly alone. Just this week Barack Obama shortened another 111 sentences, bringing the total under his tenure to 673. He has now granted more clemencies than all previous 10 presidents combined. As we wrote earlier this month, when he separately commuted hundreds of sentences, he did so for many prisoners who were behind bars for gun-related convictions. That’s not exactly setting a good example. Both McAuliffe and Obama have exceeded their authority. And at least one of them could soon face legal blowback for it.

(Edited.)

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