Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, struck back on Monday against her censure by the Virginia Senate with a federal lawsuit that seeks to overturn the public rebuke and restore her seniority in the 40-member chamber.
Chase filed suit against the Senate and Clerk Susan Schaar in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia over alleged violations of her rights under the U.S. Constitution, including freedom of speech under the 1st Amendment and the right to due process under the 14th Amendment, as well as the Senate’s own rules.
Chase, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor, said the censure “caused substantial mental anguish, tarnished reputation,” and affects her ability as an elected senator and as a candidate for higher office.
She had vowed to go to court over the censure, which the Senate approved by a 24-9 vote on Wednesday, with three Republicans voting in favor and six other GOP senators declining to vote. The censure strips her of seniority, demoting her to junior senator from Chesterfield, while finding her guilty of “conduct unbecoming” of a member of the Senate.
In a statement on Monday, Chase said, “The public censure against me was issued by the political elite class of the Senate who disagreed with my political speech and political expressions.”
“The First Amendment of the Constitution applies to everyone and you do not lose it when you become an elected official,” she said. “The majority of the Senate of Virginia believe that collectively they can silence the First Amendment as long as they do it with a group vote.”https://81c5940a2db6a891ac9fda8c681c9db3.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html
Carl Tobias, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Richmond, said in cases involving constitutional issues, the courts “have to look at it closely and give it serious consideration.”
Tobias said a federal judge might be reluctant to intervene in the rules of the Virginia legislature.
“All courts are reluctant to interfere with another branch of government, like the legislature,” he said, adding that a federal court may be even more reluctant to rule on a state legislature “and how they run their own legislature.”
The lawsuit, which Virginia Beach lawyer Tim Anderson filed for Chase, seeks to limit the Senate’s sovereign immunity to legal challenge because of “knowing and deliberate violations” of Chase’s constitutional rights, “as well as a total disregard to follow its own due process rules in issuing the censure.”
The censure, introduced by Sen. John Bell, D-Loudoun, initially charged her with “fomenting insurrection” for her public support and encouragement of political rallies in Washington on Jan. 6 that led to a riot at the U.S. Capitol. Supporters of then-President Donald Trump sought to attack the Congress as it prepared to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. Five people died in the violent attack, including a U.S. Capitol Police officer.
Bell revised the resolution to allay Republican concerns over censuring Chase for free speech. Instead, he added a litany of controversial behavior by Chase that extended to her public confrontation with a Virginia Capitol Police officer in 2019 over a restricted parking spot next to Capitol Square in Richmond.
The lawsuit cites a ruling by Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, a Democrat who presides over the Senate. Fairfax found the revised resolution was “not properly before the body” because the Senate Privileges & Elections Committee had not investigated each of eight claims of alleged misconduct. However, the Senate reversed Fairfax’s ruling by a 21-vote margin.
The lawsuit names Fairfax, who is running for the Democratic nomination for governor, in his formal capacity as presiding officer of the Senate. “The right to due process for all is of paramount importance in our system,” a spokeswoman said for the lieutenant governor on Monday. “We will await the court’s review of this matter.”
The committee had approved the original censure resolution on a party-line vote, with Republicans voicing concern over violating Chase’s free speech rights. Chase did not attend the committee meeting, but sent a message to its chairman shortly before the vote asking him to postpone it.
The lawsuit alleges that she “was not advised nor afforded the right to be represented by counsel at the committee meeting.”
The committee met shortly after the Senate voted 38-1, over Chase’s sole objection, to back new committee assignments that stripped her of sole remaining committee seat. She had lost three other committee assignments a year earlier, after she quit the Senate Republican Caucus. Chase left the caucus when it renewed Sen. Tommy Norment, R-James City, as its leader after Democrats had won control of the chamber.
She also is no longer a member of the Chesterfield Republican Party because of her support for a challenger to the Republican nominee in a local race in 2019.
The lawsuit seeks to prevent the Senate clerk from publishing the censure and instead require Schaar to expunge it from the record. Chase also seeks a declaratory judgment that the Senate violated her 1st Amendment rights and that she “did not engage in disorderly conduct” under the Constitution of Virginia.
Chase, elected twice in a Senate district that includes parts of Chesterfield and all of Colonial Heights and Amelia County, also would require the Senate to reinstate her seniority.
The senator has used the censure fight as a platform for her gubernatorial campaign. She has touted herself on the Senate floor as the front-runner for the Republican gubernatorial nomination and accused her critics of a “political hit job” to damage her campaign.
Chase also pitched her lawsuit on Monday as a campaign issue.
“I am bringing this fight not just for myself but for all of Virginia,” she said. “If they can silence me they can silence you. I will stand in the line of fire to protect the constitutional rights of all Virginians.”