Come hell or high water Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe is going to deliver his state’s electoral votes to his close friend of more than twenty years, Hillary Clinton. McAuliffe has spent the entire summer attempting to restore voting rights to 206,000 convicted felons, most of whom will probably vote in future elections for him, his party, and his friends.
According to Article II Section 1 of the Constitution of Virginia, a convicted felon loses his right to vote “unless his civil rights have been restored by the Governor or other appropriate authority.” From the time the current state constitution was written in 1902 until just this year that clause was understood to mean that the governor has the authority to restore voting rights under extraordinary circumstances and on a case-by-case basis. But that’s not how McAuliffe understands it. Under his interpretation, the state constitution empowers the governor to enfranchise all felonious Virginians en masse. In April of this year, he signed an executive order doing exactly that.
In order to justify his action, Governor McAuliffe has resorted to the last refuge of scoundrels—accusations of racism. Suspending felons’ voting rights affects blacks disproportionately, you see, which McAuliffe implies can be the only reason anyone would oppose him.
That fact alone doesn’t make “blacks” and “felons” interchangeable terms by any stretch of the imagination. Most felons are not black and most blacks are not felons. Even so, the fact that felon disenfranchisement affects blacks disproportionately is a direct result of blacks violating the law disproportionately. Felons are a self-selecting group of people who choose to rape, murder, and rob, among other crimes. The day blacks decide to get their act together and stop joining this ignoble group will be the day they stop being disproportionately affected by laws like these. It’s not the law’s fault that black people break it in proportions far beyond their numbers.
But McAuliffe undercuts his own argument when he parries with opponents over his transparently selfish motives. Knowing that his unilateral and illegal executive order is perceived as a giveaway to a close friend, the governor has hinted that in fact felons are unlikely to vote for Hillary Clinton because of their demographic traits—ergo, his executive order was principled and pure. As he told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell last month, the average felon having his rights restored is a 48-year old white male. “Now I’m not sure that’s Hillary’s demographic, but maybe it is,” joked McAuliffe. I have been unable to find any independent confirmation of McAuliffe’s assertion but let’s assume for the sake of argument that it’s true. What then is racist about the continued disenfranchisement of felons? If the idea is to keep blacks out of the voting booths they’re doing it wrong. If, as McAuliffe suggests, the average felon in Virginia is a middle-aged white guy—and likely working class—restoring his franchise would be a boon for Donald Trump. That’s his base.
Perhaps McAuliffe would counter that blacks are still disproportionately disenfranchised, even if they are not the majority of those disenfranchised. As true as that may be, it’s also irrelevant. In elections it’s real numbers that matter, not proportions. If Republicans block ten voters likely to vote for the GOP just to block five voters likely to vote for the Democrats, they will lose.
Judging by states that permit felons to vote, it appears that felons really do prefer the Democrats by a margin of about 6-to-1. It’s not a stretch at all to believe that McAuliffe’s typical felon (white, male, 48 years old) would vote Democrat if only because the Democrats have become the party of, by, and for criminals. Criminality comes so naturally to the Democrats that Governor McAuliffe will blithely break the law just to get them their voting rights back. He’s even under FBI investigation for possibly accepting foreign campaign donations, including a rather large one from a Chinese businessman. The Democrats are so corrupt that they’re running an unindicted felon (perjurer, obstructer of justice) for president this year. They’re the party of illegal aliens, cop-killers, rioters and looters. Criminals of all races feel right at home with the Democrats because the jackass party happens to be the nation’s leading crime syndicate.
Reasonable people, I believe, can disagree on the issue of felon voting. My personal opinion is that voting rights should be restored after a felon has completed his sentence—but that’s not the point. What matters is that Governor McAuliffe does not have the authority to restore voting rights unilaterally and en masse. It may be the morally correct thing to do but there’s still a right way and a wrong way to go about it. The right way is to amend Virginia’s constitution. Fortunately, there’s a process for that spelled out in Article XII. The governor’s shortcut amounts to cheating, plain and simple.
The last Democratic governor of Virginia, Tim Kaine, considered doing what McAuliffe actually did. In 2010 Kaine sought the recommendation of his senior counsel, attorney and law professor Mark Rubin, who advised him that the governor has no such authority. “A blanket order restoring the voting rights of everyone would be a rewrite of the law rather than a contemplated use of the executive clemency powers,” wrote Rubin a letter. “And, the notion that the Constitution of the Commonwealth could be rewritten via executive order is troubling.” In light of this unequivocal legal advice, Kaine decided not to issue the executive order that McAuliffe issued this past April. Oddly enough, Kaine now supports McAuliffe’s lawless unilateral action. Could it be because he’s Hillary Clinton’s running mate?
Bad news came in July for Governor McAuliffe when the Virginia Supreme Court invalidated his executive order, citing Governor Kaine’s reluctance to restore voting rights to felons via unilateral action. Chief Justice Donald Lemons wrote in the majority opinion: “Never before have any of the prior 71 Virginia Governors issued a clemency order of any kind — including pardons, reprieves, commutations, and restoration orders — to a class of unnamed felons without regard for the nature of the crimes or any other individual circumstances relevant to the request. To be sure, no Governor of this Commonwealth, until now, has even suggested that such a power exists. And the only Governors who have seriously considered the question concluded that no such power exists.”
But McAuliffe was not deterred. After the court tossed out his sweeping executive order and invalidated the voter registrations of 13,000 felons who had registered in the interim, the governor set to work trying to find a way around the ruling. He settled on a childish gimmick—rather than signing one piece of paper to restore the rights of 206,000 felons he would instead sign 206,000 pieces of paper, starting with the 13,000 felons hanging in limbo. Each felon would receive his clemency “individually”—or at least that pretense would be maintained. McAuliffe did not plan to review each case nor did he set any criteria by which to weed out the undeserving. He was going to do exactly what the court told him he couldn’t legally do, only using a lot more ink and paper.
Virginia’s Speaker of the House and Senate Majority Leader, both Republicans, have asked the Virginia Supreme Court to hold Governor McAuliffe in contempt, which he clearly is. Much the same way that Kim Davis had her butt tossed in jail for defying a court order, Terry McAuliffe must also face some consequences. Or do we only jail the little people? He must not be allowed to get away with his arrogant and selfish power grab lest a precedent be set. The ends don’t justify the means and Terry McAuliffe is not a law unto himself. He cannot abrogate the state constitution with a stroke of his pen—or 206,000 strokes of his pen. Terry McAuliffe must be arrested post haste if the rule of law is to survive.