RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A defiant Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced Monday that he again restored the voting rights of about 13,000 felons who served their time after his previous attempt was thwarted by Republican lawmakers and the state Supreme Court.
Virginia's highest court ruled in July that governors cannot restore rights en masse, but must consider each offender on a case-by-case basis. That ruling invalidated a sweeping executive order issued by McAuliffe in April that had given back the voting rights of more than 200,000 felons who completed their sentences.
McAuliffe blasted the court Monday for ignoring the "the clear text of the Constitution" and accused Republicans of trying to suppress voters' voices. But he pledged to move forward, saying he won't let the felon disenfranchisement "destroy lives and families, and destabilize communities."
"These individuals are gainfully employed. They send their children and their grandchildren to our schools. They shop in our grocery stores and they pay taxes. And I am not content to condemn them for eternity as inferior second-class citizens," McAuliffe said during an event at the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial.
Rights-restoration letters were mailed Friday to the roughly 13,000 people who had registered to vote before their rights were taken away by the court, McAuliffe said. His administration processed each felon's paperwork individually to comply with the ruling, he said.
Moving forward, McAuliffe will individually restore the rights of other felons who meet the requirements, giving priority to those who request it, he said. The orders also allow the felons to serve on a jury, run for public office and become a notary public.
A voter-registration application will be included in each of the rights-restoration letters sent to felons, McAuliffe said. The deadline to register to vote in Virginia for November's election is Oct. 17.
The Virginia Supreme Court's 4-3 decision striking down his executive order was a significant blow to McAuliffe, who called felon disenfranchisement a vestige of the state's Jim Crow past because it disproportionately impacts African-Americans.
Republicans have accused McAuliffe of trying to add more Democrats to the voter rolls to aid presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in November, but McAuliffe maintains his motivations weren't political. The administration recently released the names and addresses of the 13,000 who had registered, and most of them live in urban areas that typically vote Democratic.
GOP House Speaker William Howell, who sued McAuliffe over the order, said lawmakers will carefully review the process McAuliffe laid out Monday to ensure it meets the requirements set by the court.
"From the beginning, we have done nothing more than hold the governor accountable to the constitution and the rule of law. The Supreme Court's decision vindicated our efforts and we will continue to fulfill our role as a check on the excesses of executive power," Howell said in a statement.
Kenneth Williams, whose voter registration was canceled after the court ruling, said he looks forward to getting his letter saying his rights have once again been restored. The 67-year-old, who served 10 years on a robbery charge and now runs a prisoner re-entry program, said he's eager to not only vote himself, but help to register others whose rights were once stripped away.
"I made a promise to myself that I'm going to assist everyone I can to register to vote ... so they can have a voice," he said.
Follow Alanna Durkin Richer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/aedurkinricher. Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/journalist/alanna-durkin-richer.