RICHMOND, VA, 31 August 2016 – Attorneys for Virginia House of Delegates Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford), Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment, Jr. (R-James City), and four Virginia voters will file a contempt motion today against Governor Terence R. McAuliffe (D) with the Supreme Court of Virginia. The petitioners are requesting an order from the Court requiring the Governor and other respondents to show cause for why they should not be held in contempt for violating the Supreme Court’s July 22 decision in Howell v. McAuliffe.
In granting a writ of mandamus against Governor McAuliffe and other respondents, the Court ruled that the governor replaced a general rule with a categorical exception, effectively suspending the constitutional prohibition on felon voting and violating the Constitution of Virginia’s anti-suspension provision. The contempt motion argues that the effect of the August 22 action is practically the same as the first set of executive orders, resulting in another unconstitutional suspension of the laws.
“‘The practical effect’ of Governor McAuliffe’s August 22 decision to issue over 200,000 individual restoration orders is precisely the same: his newly announced process will effectively suspend Virginia’s general constitutional prohibition against felon voting for over 200,000 felons,” reads the motion. “In both scenarios, the Governor has ‘effectively reframe[d] Article II, Section 1 to say’ what he wants it to say rather than what the People of Virginia actually inscribed in their Constitution. This Court did not reduce the suspension clause of the Constitution to a printing requirement. The Court held instead that the suspension clause is an ‘essential pillar of a constitutional republic,’ whose protections do not depend upon how many reams of paper and autopen machines the Governor deploys to work his will.”
“After a thorough legal review, it is clear that Governor McAuliffe has once again illegally suspended the Constitution of Virginia,” said Speaker Howell. “There is no practical difference between his latest action and his first set of executive orders.
“We have carefully considered the gravity of our request. I deeply respect the Supreme Court and its role as a co-equal branch of government. The seriousness of Governor McAuliffe’s flagrant and repeated violation of the Constitution requires us to take action. The governor will undoubtedly continue to falsely demagogue our motivations, but we cannot stand idly by. We have an obligation to check the excesses of executive power and hold the governor accountable to the Constitution and the rule of law.”
“We have ‘a government of laws and not of men,’” Senator Norment noted. “In our system of government, when one official flagrantly ignores the laws, it is the solemn duty of those of us who have the authority to stand up and take action. Having been told by the highest court in the Commonwealth that his process violated our Constitution, the Governor has responded with dismissive rhetoric and ignored the Court’s ruling. We have no choice but to seek relief and demand he comply with the Rule of Law.
“I believe in redemption. And there is a way, within the bounds of the law, to ensure those deserving of relief have their rights restored. But no matter how noble the goal, allowing the Governor – or any government official – to usurp the Rule of Law is detrimental to our system of self-government. It cannot stand.”