RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A federal judge heard hours of arguments Thursday but did not immediately rule on whether to dismiss a lawsuit over the Virginia Senate’s decision to censure firebrand conservative Amanda Chase.
Chase, who is a Republican candidate for governor, filed the lawsuit in February, a few days after her colleagues passed the censure resolution on a bipartisan vote, denouncing her for a “pattern of unacceptable conduct.”
Chase has been accused of voicing support for those who participated in storming the U.S. Capitol. She herself attended a rally shortly before the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol but was not part of the group that later stormed the building. Chase also previously called for martial law to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Named as plaintiffs in Chase’s lawsuit are Susan Clarke Schaar, the Senate clerk, and the Senate of Virginia through Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who in his role presides over the chamber and its daily work.
U.S. District Judge Robert E. Payne had pointed questions for both Chase’s attorney, Tim Anderson, and Solicitor General Toby Heytens on Thursday as he took up the state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. He indicated he would issue a ruling later.
Chase is seeking a declaratory judgement that the censure violated her First Amendment rights. She also wants the censure expunged from the public record and journal of the Senate and she wants her seniority rank, which was demoted, reinstated.
Anderson said that that the censure has amounted to a stain on Chase’s career and bid for higher office. He argued that the way it was handled amounted to a violation of her constitutional rights.
“What’s happened here is that Sen. Chase has been censured for free speech,” said Anderson, a Republican legal activist currently running for a seat in the House of Delegates.
The state has asked the court to declare that Schaar and Fairfax are immune from the lawsuit and that Chase’s claims are a “nonjusticiable political question,” meaning that they are not for a court to decide.
“Plaintiff complains that, absent this litigation, she has ‘no remedy’ for her censure by the body of which she is a member. Because censure is fundamentally a political proceeding conducted by a legislative body, plaintiff’s remedy for any alleged wrongs must be a political one rather than ‘a public fight in a court of law,’” Attorney General Mark Herring’s office wrote in court papers, referencing remarks Chase made on the Senate floor.
The censure resolution, which passed on a 24-9 vote, says that Chase “has exhibited conduct unbecoming of a Senator during her terms in office by displaying a disregard for civility in discourse with colleagues, making false and misleading statements both in committee and on the Senate floor, and displaying a disregard for the significance of her duty to the citizens of the Commonwealth as an elected representative in the Senate of Virginia.”
“She really wound up all these senators, didn’t she?” Payne asked at one point.