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The Right Note: Governor McAuliffe’s End Run

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark Kelly

 Governor McAuliffe recently issued an executive order restoring to 206,000 felons who successfully completed their sentences the rights to vote, sit on juries, run for office and become a notary public.

Previous governors explored this question and found that their Constitutional clemency powers required the restoration of these rights to be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Some Republicans are arguing McAuliffe is making a blatant political play to help boost Hillary Clinton’s chances win Virginia in November. But some form of restoration of voting rights is an issue with support on both sides of the political aisle.

By using an executive order, however, Governor McAuliffe did an end run around the General Assembly on an issue that clearly should have been subject to public debate and scrutiny. McAuliffe also left open the very real possibility the next governor could modify or eliminate the order altogether which would raise even more Constitutional questions about whether an individual had some, or all of these rights, or not.

The use of the executive order eliminated the opportunity for public scrutiny on important questions. Should individuals be required to apply for the rights or should they be automatic? Should we differentiate between repeat violent offenders and nonviolent first-time offenders? Should rapists be eligible to sit on a jury during a rape trial? Or should people convicted of fraud be given a public trust like being a notary public?

But elected representatives were denied the ability to debate any issues surrounding whether any or all the rights should be restored or in what manner. And not surprisingly, Republicans in the General Assembly are preparing to sue the Governor on the grounds his actions were unconstitutional.

The people of Virginia should be wary whenever a Governor attempts to unilaterally re-write the Virginia Constitution. When Democrat Governor Kaine explored the same question, his legal counsel determined such an executive order would re-write Virginia law and set a very troubling precedent of ignoring his oath to uphold the Constitution. Governor Kaine was right to defer to his oath.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

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