To the Editor:
A Constitutional issue recently arose that is worthy of mention. On April 22, 2016, Gov. Terry McAuliffe issued an Order in which he stated he was restoring the voting rights of over 200,000 convicted felons who had served their sentences and probation periods. Republican members of the Virginia legislature have expressed their intention to take court action to challenge the legitimacy of the governor's Order.
In my opinion, the legislature has the better of the argument. The first WHEREAS clause of the Order cites Article II, Section 1 of the Virginia Constitution in stating that that section "requires that all those convicted of a felony be deprived of their civil right to vote unless they have their civil rights restored by the Governor or other appropriate authority ...". However, the last sentence of the Order states the following: "Nothing in this Order restores the right to ship, transport, possess, or receive firearms."
Article II, Section 1 of the Virginia Constitution states the following in pertinent part: "No person who has been convicted of a felony shall be qualified to vote unless his civil rights have been restored by the Governor or other appropriate authority." This provision of the Virginia Constitution does not allow "cherry picking" of a subset of the civil rights that must be restored by the Governor in order to also restore the right to vote. "His civil rights" means all of his civil rights, not some of them. The Governor's Order expressly excludes civil rights having to do with shipping, transporting, possessing, or receiving firearms. Clearly, the Governor's intent was to restore voting rights while preventing those convicted of violent felonies from being able to possess a firearm. This is what happens when a Governor tries, in a sweeping manner, to restore voting rights to hundreds of thousands of convicted felons without looking at each case individually, which has been the past practice.
Unless the Governor has restored all of the civil rights of each convicted felon, in my opinion, such an Order is ineffective to restore voting rights. I believe this is the principal argument that will be made by opponents of the Governor's Order. I also believe it is a winning argument.
Governor McAuliffe: do your job. Review each record one by one. Weed out those convicted of violent felonies and restore all the civil rights of the rest, including the right to ship, transport, possess or receive firearms.
H. Jay Spiegel