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AG rules out executive order for rights restoration

Recommends that a state agency handle applications

Marlene Jones | 5/28/2013, 2:43 p.m.
Va. AG Ken Cuccinelli

— Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said on May 28 that he has ruled out the viability of an executive order to automatically restore civil rights for ex-felons who have completed their sentences.

The state's lawyer said that the governor does not have the constitutional authority to do so, according to the results of an advisory committee, formed by the attorney general in March to explore ways of achieving automatic rights restoration without the General Assembly. Cuccinelli, a Republican running for governor in 2013, instead recommended streamlining the current application process by assigning a state agency to approve individual applications.

Cuccinelli and Gov. Bob McDonnell, broke away from their past statements and from fellow Republicans earlier this year, supporting a constitutional amendment that if approved by lawmakers, would automatically restore the civil rights of ex-felons who have completed the terms of their sentences. The measure failed to pass muster with the Republican-controlled House of Delegates.

Civil rights groups, including the NAACP and the Advancement Project, as well as Democrats, then called on the governor to issue an executive order that would allow for the automatic restoration of rights.

Immediately following the attorney general's announcement, several lawmakers and civil rights groups slammed Cuccinelli.

“After spending the last decade opposing efforts to restore voting rights to Virginians who have paid their debt to society, Ken Cuccinelli is trying to take credit for the hard work of others with an election-year flip-flop," said Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Portmouth). "A man who called voting rights restoration ‘jailbird registration’ has no business claiming to be supportive of this effort.”

“Issuing an executive order for automatic rights restoration is not only legally sound; it is the only solution that truly upholds our American values of redemption, justice and freedom,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Penda D. Hair. “Gov. McDonnell has repeatedly called on the legislature to pass a constitutional amendment on this issue to no avail, and he can’t keep waiting on lawmakers to act."

Current law allows the serving Virginia governor to restore individual rights following an application process. During his term, McDonnell accelerated and expanded the application process, allowing him to individually restore the rights of more citizens than any governor in history – and that’s been less than 5,000.

"This pales in comparison to the more than 350,000 Virginians who continue to be denied their right to vote, even years after serving their time and rejoining their communities," said Hair. "Streamlining the application process, or designating a state agency to oversee applications, does not solve the problem of the hundreds of thousands of citizens who are disenfranchised. These are men and women who work, have families, pay taxes and are often trying to rebuild their lives. They should no longer be deprived of having a voice in our democracy. What’s more, a majority of Virginians support automatic rights restoration. Gov. McDonnell has the legal authority and broad public support to sign an executive order. We hope that he will build upon his leadership by granting automatic rights restoration for all.”