Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe | wikimedia, commons

Republicans plan to sue McAuliffe over felons' rights order

Virginia House and Senate leaders have decided to take Gov. Terry McAuliffe to court in an effort to overturn McAuliffe's executive order restoring civil rights to more than 200,000 former felons.

In a statement issued Monday afternoon, House Speaker William J. Howell said McAuliffe's order represents "an unprecedented view of executive authority and exceeded the powers granted to him by the Constitution of Virginia."

"We have retained attorney Charles J. Cooper to challenge the governor's order," Howell said, noting that Cooper "will immediately begin developing the best path to challenge the governor's action as quickly as possible."

Cooper is the chairman of the Washington, D.C.-based law firm Cooper & Kirk.

In 2004, Cooper's firm represented the state of Florida in a federal lawsuit over the state's constitutional ban on felons' claimed rights to vote, serve on juries, hold elected office or own firearms.

Much like Virginia's procedure for restoring felons' rights before McAuliffe's April 22nd executive order, Florida requires ex-felons who have completed their sentences to apply to the governor for clemency before any of their civil rights can be restored.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the suit.

Howell noted that no taxpayer funds would be used to pay Cooper & Kirk's legal fees.

Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment said both McAuliffe's "predecessors and previous attorneys general examined this issue and consistently concluded Virginia's governor does not have the power to issue blanket restorations."

In a 2010 letter to the ACLU of Virginia, Mark Rubin, a counselor to then-Gov. Tim Kaine, wrote that a "blanket restoration [of felons' civil rights] within the context of current Virginia law would not be proper."