Richmond, VA. —The Virginia State Conference of the NAACP filed a brief on Monday, June 27, 2016 in the Virginia Supreme Court in support of Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s executive order restoring voting rights to more than 200,000 Virginians with previous felony convictions.
Gov. McAuliffe’s Order for the Restoration of Rights, issued April 22, 2016, represents a significant step toward ensuring that Virginians with felony convictions are able to not only re-enter and meaningfully participate in society, but also exercise their fundamental right to vote.
Currently, under Virginia law, people with felony convictions are automatically stripped of their political rights, and the governor alone has the power to restore those rights after completion of the individuals’ sentences. The Commonwealth’s extreme felony disenfranchisement provision is well outside the mainstream nationwide, and it exists and has persisted for explicitly racially discriminatory reasons dating to the 19th century.
Exercising his exclusive power under the Virginia Constitution, the governor ordered that a slew of critical civil rights—the rights to vote, hold political office, serve on a jury, and serve as a notary public—be immediately restored to the approximately 206,000 Virginians with previous felony convictions. In issuing his order, the governor noted that “Virginians have increasingly advanced the ideals of equality of all races and peoples, while rejecting the indefinite and unforgiving stigmatization of persons who have committed past criminal acts.”
In support of the Governor’s action, on Monday the Virginia NAACP submitted an amicus curiae brief to the Virginia Supreme Court in Howell v. McAuliffe, explaining why the Governor’s executive order was appropriate given the unbroken thread of racial discrimination woven into the Commonwealth’s constitution. Virginia House of Delegates Speaker William Howell and others have petitioned the Virginia Supreme Court to overturn the Governor’s action as an improper exercise of his constitutional power. The Virginia Supreme Court will hear oral argument in the case on July 19 in Richmond.
Voting restrictions are but one example of the far-reaching negative consequences felony convictions can have on individuals’ lives—consequences that persist long after those individuals’ terms of incarceration and supervised release have concluded. In addition to being denied the right to participate in the political process, Virginians with felony convictions face heightened barriers to obtaining reliable housing, steady employment and other basic necessities, even after completing their sentences. These barriers disproportionately affect minority and low-income Virginians, and contribute to a cycle of recidivism that further stacks the deck against formerly incarcerated people seeking to re-enter and positively contribute to society.
“Felony disenfranchisement laws like the one in Virginia have no place in modern society, and the brief filed today outlines many of the reasons why that is the case,” said Allison Riggs of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which represents the Virginia NAACP in this matter and provides legal assistance and re-entry services to communities across the South. “Any action taken to ameliorate the racially discriminatory effects of such laws should be applauded and upheld, not attacked.”
To access the amicus brief, click here.