A simple choice in Virginia

Published 8:12 pm Saturday, July 23, 2016

Now that the Supreme Court of Virginia has protected the integrity of the state constitution by striking down the transparently political shenanigans of a governor who had hoped to secure votes for a friend who aspires to be president, all parties involved in the mess are free to do what they should have done from the start.

Start with Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who unilaterally and — according to a 4-3 majority of Virginia Supreme Court justices — unconstitutionally restored the voting rights of more than 200,000 felons who had served their prison sentences.

Rather than take the time to examine each of the cases individually, McAuliffe signed an executive order intended to restore them all at once. Predictably, the result was that — in addition to those who had served their time and are trying to become honorable citizens — those rights were also restored to some felons who had returned to prison.


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The court’s ruling gave McAuliffe the nudge he needed to do this thing the right way. On Friday, his office issued a statement excoriating the court for its decision, promising to “expeditiously sign nearly 13,000 individual orders” and vowing to “continue to sign orders until I have completed restoration for all 200,000 Virginians.”

One supposes the governor is excepting those felons who have returned to incarceration from his vow. Assuming that’s so, and assuming his team actually takes the time to consider the cases individually, then Virginia should be satisfied that her constitution is being upheld.

Meanwhile, the court’s decision also gives Republicans, who have focused their energies almost exclusively on the slimy appearance of McAuliffe’s timing on the matter of restoration, the opportunity to do what they should already have done.

They must state publicly and in a manner that can be construed as nothing but genuine their desire to abolish or at least massively restructure the Jim Crow-era constitutional requirement that the governor get involved every time someone has paid his dues to society and wants the opportunity to then participate fully in it.

Perhaps there are some crimes for which voting (and jury-service and some other rights) should be permanently sacrificed, but the time for re-evaluating that bar is long overdue. The law is demonstrably racist — if not in its construction or application, at least in its effect — and our society is better than the one that created it.

Republicans, who control Virginia’s General Assembly, must take the opportunity afforded by the Supreme Court of Virginia to make things right. Or they can take the opportunity to score political points with the diminishing Old Guard. The choice should be a simple one.