RICHMOND, VIRGINIA – Today, the Virginia State Conference of the NAACP (“Virginia NAACP”) notified Governor Glenn Youngkin and his administration of its intent to file a lawsuit to obtain public records related to his process for determining whether to restore the voting rights of Virginians with past felony convictions. These key records are being unlawfully withheld by the Governor following a Virginia Freedom of Information Act (“VFOIA”) request sent by Virginia NAACP on May 9, 2023. Virginia NAACP is providing notice of its intent to file suit in compliance with the provisions of VFOIA, which stipulate a hearing must be granted within seven days of filing.
Based on its review of almost 600 documents obtained from the Governor’s office earlier this year, Virginia NAACP identified additional key documents that were not produced and yet are not exempt from production under VFOIA. These documents contain key information regarding the factors considered by the Governor when deciding whether to restore an individual’s rights, including records of meetings, communications, and other documents relating to the implementation of the Governor’s restoration of rights policy; and documents concerning restoration of rights applicants whose completed applications were ultimately denied. Despite making four separate requests in June and July 2023 for the Governor and his counsel to make these additional documents available for review, to date, the Governor has not responded to Virginia NAACP’s inquiries, nor has he explained the legal basis for withholding these key documents, , as required by VFOIA. As a result, the Virginia NAACP has been left with no choice but to file suit in the Richmond Circuit Court to obtain these records and elucidate the process that has prevented thousands of Virginians from regaining their voting rights
“We bring this lawsuit to continue to shine a light on the Governor’s process for restoration of rights, which disproportionately disenfranchises Black Virginians,” said Virginia NAACP President Robert N. Barnette, Jr. “After multiple requests to the Youngkin administration fell on deaf ears, we must now look to the court system to vindicate our rights and the rights of all Virginians to know what is being done behind closed doors. Virginians of all stripes deserve to know as much as possible about the rights restoration process, including who is in the room, what information is considered, and the criteria used to make decisions that cut to the core of our democracy and ultimately impact tens of thousands of returning citizens every year. This lawsuit is the next step in our fight for transparency and accountability.”
“The Governor cannot be allowed to simply refuse to comply with the Virginia Freedom of Information Act,” said Ryan Snow, Counsel with the Voting Rights Project of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Withholding these key records is not only unlawful, but also demonstrates that the Governor does not want the details of his arbitrary and slow restoration of rights process to be made public. We expect that this court action will force him to disclose these records and look forward to making sure all Virginians are aware of how this unjust process actually works.”
The Virginia NAACP submitted its VFOIA request due to grave concerns about Governor Youngkin’s new restoration of rights process, in particular the lack of clear criteria for deciding whether to restore an individual’s rights and the extremely slow pace of rights restoration under his administration, both of which could have a substantial impact on ongoing state and local elections. Despite numerous requests for information about his abrupt policy change, the Governor has repeatedly refused to explain what factors are taken into consideration when assessing whether to restore a citizen’s voting rights. Virginia NAACP demands that the Governor 1) establish a clear and publicly available set of criteria that govern his decision whether to restore an individual’s rights; 2) communicate directly with applicants about all aspects of the process, including the reasons for his decision; and 3) establish and adhere to a clear timeline that will ensure for fair and prompt processing of all applications. Virginia NAACP further renews its demand for these and other changes as voting is already underway for the November 2023 general election.
A copy of Virginia NAACP’s VOIFA complaint and exhibits can be found here.
To access the documents from the FOIA on Restoration of Rights: naacpva.us/FOIA-RestorationOfRights
To access the Proposed Platform for Gubernatorial Restoration Rights Process: naacpva.us/ProposedPlatformForRestorationOfRights
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ABOUT THE NAACP Virginia State Conference
Chartered in 1935, the NAACP Virginia State Conference (Virginia NAACP) is the oldest and largest nonpartisan civil rights organization in the Commonwealth. The NAACP Virginia advocates, agitates, and litigates for civil rights due to Black Virginians. Representing over 100 NAACP adult branches, youth councils, and college chapters, together, we fight to build the social and political power required to abolish racial discrimination in localities throughout Virginia. To learn more about the work of the Virginia NAACP and the issues we advocate for, visit naacpva.org.
About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to mobilize the nation’s leading lawyers as agents for change in the Civil Rights Movement. Today, the Lawyers’ Committee uses legal advocacy to achieve racial justice, fighting inside and outside the courts to ensure that Black people and other people of color have the voice, opportunity, and power to make the promises of our democracy real. For more information, please visit https://lawyerscommittee.org.