More than a hundred sex offenders in Virginia who the state deemed too dangerous to be released after they finished their sentences had their voting rights restored earlier this year by Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, an action Republicans in the state are calling "unconscionable."
McAuliffe issued an executive order earlier this year to restore the voting rights of over 200,000 convicted felons in the state. He has been accused of rushing the process without considering individual cases, leading to the restoration of voting rights for violent felons still in prison.
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The latest mistake, revealed Wednesday by the Washington Post, involves the Virginia Center for Behavioral Rehabilitation, a facility that holds inmates judged to be "sexually violent predators" by a civil court judge.
The Commonwealth's Attorney in Nottoway County, where the facility is housed, said 176 of the 370 individuals housed at the facility meet the criteria set by McAuliffe to regain their franchise, run for public office, and serve on a jury. A search of a state database confirmed that 132 of those 176 individuals had indeed had their rights restored.
The McAuliffe administration is pushing back against the report, saying that the restoration of civil rights to those 132 individuals was a mistake and that their status should not have been changed by the executive order. A spokesperson told the Post that McAuliffe's order excluded felons that were under "supervised release."
Steve Benjamin, a prominent Virginia lawyer who spoke to the Post, sided against McAuliffe, stating that individuals at the Virginia Center for Behavioral Rehabilitation are not under "supervised release" as defined in the executive order.
"Civil commitment is not part of a criminal sentence, even though they are still in custody," Benjamin said.
"Supervised release" more commonly refers to individuals on parole or probation, and is a criminal justice proceeding.
William Howell, the Republican Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, told the Washington Free Beacon that McAuliffe is trying to "change his interpretation of the order after the fact."
"The governor does not get to change his interpretation of the order after the fact, no matter how politically inconvenient the consequences," Howell said. "McAuliffe's order appears to restore the political rights of Virginia's worst sexually violent predators. It is unconscionable."
State Delegate Robert Bell, a Republican who plans to run for attorney general next cycle, said McAuliffe is trying to "modify his order yet again."
"I understand [McAuliffe's] desire to go to the wayback machine and modify his order yet again, but this happened," Bell said.
Howell and Virginia Republicans filed a lawsuit last month to block the executive order, arguing McAuliffe is abusing his powers by granting clemency in such a sweeping fashion.
"From Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson to Tim Kaine and Bob McDonnell, every Governor of Virginia has understood the clemency power to authorize the governor to grant clemency on an individualized basis only," the lawsuit said.
The Virginia Supreme Court granted the Republicans’ request to expedite the case so it could be decided before the more than 200,000 felons have the chance to vote in November. The court will take up the case July 19.
"The Supreme Court is set to hear our challenge next month and we're confident we will prevail," said Howell.