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AG: General Assembly has the power to expel legislators

virginia state capitol
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Attorney General Mark Herring issued an advisory opinion Friday confirming that the Virginia General Assembly “possesses broad power to discipline and, where it judges appropriate, expel member legislators.”

The opinion was issued in response to a query from Del. Lee Carter, a Northern Virginia Democrat running for the party’s gubernatorial nomination, in regard to the participation of State Sen. Amanda Chase, a candidate for the Republican Party nomination for governor, in the rally that preceded the attempted insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Chase addressed the Jan. 6 rally preceding the attack on the Capitol, but left before the Capitol was breached.

That night, in a message on Facebook, she said she did not condone the violence, but expressed sympathy with those who had breached the Capitol, calling them “patriots.”

“When you back good people, law-abiding citizens, into the corner, they will push back,” Chase said in a Facebook video. “When you cheat them of their elections, when you take away their constitutional rights and freedoms, you’re backing the patriots like myself into a corner. We would like to have a peaceful [resolution] to the events of today, but as you can see, there are many patriots that have already — we, we’ve had enough.”

The matter addressed by Carter in his letter requesting the legal opinion from Herring may already be moot. The Washington Post is reporting today that a tentative deal had been struck between Chase and Senate Democrats in which Sen. John Bell, D-Loudoun, would agree to withdraw the resolution he submitted to censure her if she would “clarify” her remarks about the Jan. 6 Capitol attack and offer a general apology for insults she has lobbed at Democrats.

Censure is a formal rebuke that carries no legal or political sanction.

There is nothing in the works at the moment to remove Chase from the Senate.

The body earlier this week voted 37-1 – Chase casting the one – to strip her of her lone Senate committee assignment.

In his advisory opinion, Herring posits that the General Assembly “possesses authority to determine whether its members’ conduct warrants discipline or expulsion.”

“Article IV, Section 7 of the Constitution of Virginia provides that ‘(e)ach house’ of the General Assembly ‘may punish (its members) for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds of its elected membership, may expel a member.’ Whether to ‘punish’ or ‘expel’ a member is committed solely to the discretion of the relevant legislative body.”

Herring also explains in the opinion that the General Assembly determines what kind of conduct warrants discipline or expulsion.

“Article IV, Section 7 recognize(s) and confirm(s) legislative bodies’ authority over internal matters of member discipline and expulsion … (and) ‘the determination of what conduct justifies imposition of this severe sanction is to be made by the legislature itself.’”

Herring concludes his letter that “the Constitution of Virginia unequivocally grants plenary authority to each chamber of the General Assembly to discipline or expel its members…[and] the terms of Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment and related historical precedent confirm that expulsion may be an appropriate sanction if a member ‘shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against’ the United States Constitution or has ‘given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.’”

“The Jan. 6th attack on our Capitol was an affront to our democracy and the very foundations of our country,” Herring said in a statement on the advisory opinion.

“It’s appalling that a Virginia legislator would have anything to do with that event, or with the baseless conspiracy theories and lies that fueled it. As I lay out in this opinion, the General Assembly has tools for holding its members to account if it determines that any legislator’s actions warrant discipline or expulsion,” Herring said.

Story by Chris Graham


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