Virginia Dem backs off plan to impeach Fairfax over rape claims after black lawmakers object

Help me figure this out. It was fair and reasonable to call on Justin Fairfax to resign on Friday, mere hours after a second woman accused him of rape…

…but it’s not fine to take legislative action to remove him if he won’t go voluntarily? I can’t square this circle.

A Virginia state legislator who intended to begin impeachment proceedings against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax backed off on Monday after African-American lawmakers demanded there not be a rush to oust Mr. Fairfax, who is black, over accusations of sexual assault while the state’s white governor and attorney general are refusing to resign after they admitted wearing blackface in their youth…

Members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, who have been agonizing over what to do regarding all three of the state’s executives for over a week now, believe the claims against Mr. Fairfax should be litigated in a legal setting, not a political venue.

And they are furious at Mr. Hope over what they see as his haste and his making an already excruciating dilemma even more painful by trying to force them to take a public position on impeachment this week, according to a Virginia Democrat directly familiar with the call.

If it’s a matter of due process, they should have considered that before they leaped to call on him to resign. Sounds to me like some people got an earful from constituents over the weekend about rushing to judgment on Fairfax, particularly given how eager Ralph Northam and Mark Herring are to have his scandal distract from their own, and decided to take it out on Hope by affecting indignation at the idea of impeaching Fairfax just yet. As one local academic told the AP, “There are some people in the community … who automatically say once a black person gets in office, then the effort is ‘Let’s see what we can do to discredit him.'” Read this Daily Beast report about activists in Richmond gathering this weekend at a former jail for slaves to demand that Northam’s blackface scandal take precedence over Fairfax’s problems: “Do not ask me about Justin Fairfax’s resignation before you give me Ralph Northam’s resignation.” Yeesh.

I don’t know what that bit in the excerpt means either about wanting the claims to be “litigated in a legal setting.” Presumably they don’t mean a criminal trial. If the new rule is that public servants should continue in office unless indicted and found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt then Kavanaugh should have been confirmed in five minutes. The left’s entire argument during the Ford saga was that the confirmation process isn’t a trial, it’s a job interview. The public is well within its rights to refuse to hand power to a candidate for public office because they suspect him of gross misconduct even though there’s not a chance he’d be convicted of a crime in open court. If Northam resigns, which admittedly now seems unlikely, Fairfax would become governor of Virginia. Why should the legislature acquiesce in his promotion when he’s facing multiple accusations of sexual assault?

Maybe the VLBC has a civil standard in mind instead. Unless and until one of Fairfax’s accusers sues him for personal injury and wins in court based on a preponderance of the evidence, he should be given the benefit of the doubt. That’d be an interesting precedent to set for future cases in which politicians are accused of sexual assault. (I think Kavanaugh would have won even at a civil trial based on what we know, but it’d be risky.) Question, though: What if the statute of limitations has run and the victim can’t sue? What if it hasn’t run but the victim doesn’t want to go through the ordeal of a trial? Arguably, this is why the impeachment process exists. The Virginia House could impeach and then let the Senate weigh Fairfax’s guilt by holding its own de facto trial. They could choose a preponderance-of-the-evidence standard if they like, or maybe something a bit more exacting like “clear and convincing evidence.” Either way, it seems to be the proper venue. Criminal court is where we decide whether the defendant should pay with his liberty, civil court is where we decide whether he should pay with his checkbook. Impeachment is where we decide whether he should pay with his job.

Not everyone is waiting around for a verdict. Fairfax’s law firm placed him on leave today while they look into the claims against him. And some of Fairfax’s own staffers are heading for the exits:

Two of the three government staffers to Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and two employees of his political action committee resigned following news Friday of a second sexual assault allegation against him.

The PAC employees who left are Dave Mills, who was the executive director of We Rise Together, and Courtney McCargo, a fundraiser for the PAC.

Mills happens to be married to a state senator who’s in the mix to replace Fairfax as lieutenant governor if he steps down, in case the intrigue in Virginia wasn’t thick enough for you yet.

One other possibility for why the VLBC is backing off pushing Fairfax out is because the question of his culpability isn’t as politically urgent as it was a few days ago. When Northam’s prospects of hanging on looked shaky, it was suddenly hugely important to know if the soon-to-be governor was a, er, double rapist. But the Northam rehabilitation tour is now under way, replete with a benediction from Gayle King. The VLBC itself is suddenly talking about working with him after calling on him to resign last week. None of the three stooges are going anywhere just yet. Certainly not unless/until a third Fairfax accuser speaks up.