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Republicans Sue After Virginia Governor Restores Voting Rights to Thousands of Convicted Felons

"Gov. McAuliffe's flagrant disregard for the Constitution of Virginia and the rule of must not go unchecked."

Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Terry McAuliffe, gestures during an interview in Richmond, Va., Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013. McAuliffe faces Republican Ken Cuccinelli in the November election. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

RICHMOND, Va. (TheBlaze/AP) -- Republican lawmakers in Virginia will file a lawsuit challenging Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe's decision to allow more than 200,000 convicted felons to vote in November, GOP leaders said Monday.

Republicans said that they have hired an attorney and plan to contest the governor's executive order, which restored the rights of felons to vote, run for office and sit on a jury.

GOP lawmakers argue the governor has overstepped his constitutional authority with a clear political ploy designed to help his friend and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton get votes in the important swing state of Virginia this fall.

In this Dec. 10, 2014 file photo, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe speaks during the official opening of the new I-95 Express Lanes at the Express Lanes Operations Center in Alexandria, Va. McAuliffe is set to present a midcourse correction to the state�s two-year budget that will include expanding publicly funded Medicaid health insurance eligibility to about 400,000 to able-bodied, low-income adults, according to two state officials who have been briefed on the governor�s plans but are not allowed to discuss them publicly. (AP Photo/Molly Riley)

"Gov. McAuliffe's flagrant disregard for the Constitution of Virginia and the rule of must not go unchecked," Senate Republican Leader Thomas Norment said in a statement. He said McAuliffe's predecessors and previous attorneys general examined this issue and concluded Virginia's governor does not have the power to issue blanket restorations.

A lawyer for former Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine said in 2010 that the restoration of rights must be done on a case-by-case basis. A blanket order restoring voting rights would be a "rewrite of the law rather than a contemplated use of executive clemency powers," Mark Rubin, a counselor to Kaine, said in a letter at the time.

Virginia, Iowa, Kentucky and Florida are the only states that strip felons of their voting rights for life unless a state official restores them. Such policies make black Americans of voting age four times more likely to lose their voting rights than the rest of the adult population, according to the Washington D.C.-based Sentencing Project.

McAuliffe has said that people who have served their time should be given a second chance to exercise their civic duties. He has also said he's certain he has such authority after consulting with legal and constitutional experts, including Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, who is also a Democrat.

“People have served their time and done their probation,” McAuliffe said, according to the New York Times. “I want you back in society. I want you feeling good about yourself. I want you voting, getting a job, paying taxes."

The governor's spokesman didn't immediately return a message seeking comment.

The governor's order enables every Virginia felon to vote, run for public office, serve on a jury and become a notary public if they have completed their sentence and finished any supervised release, parole or probation requirements as of April 22. The administration estimates this population to include about 206,000 people.

The order does not apply to felons released in the future. The governor's aide's told the New York Times that he plans to issue similar orders each month going forward.

McAuliffe, who was elected governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia in 2014, campaigned partly on restoring voting rights to convicted felons, saying that revoking the privilege was “a remnant of the poll tax."

Republicans have hired Attorney Charles J. Cooper and said they will begin examining their legal options. They didn't say when they would file the lawsuit.

Cooper worked as an assistant attorney general under President Ronald Reagan. He has argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, including defending California's ban on gay marriage in 2013.

They said they will not be using taxpayer dollars to pay for the lawsuit.

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