Dereliction of duty and the appropriate response

It hasn’t taken long for the Democrats elected to office in Virginia to follow the lead of their national-level counterparts in simply deciding that they aren’t going to perform the duties they claimed they would when they were campaigning for voters before last November. Between Gov. McAuliffe’s reneging on his word to not force Virginia into a governmental shutdown over budgetary matters and AG Herring’s decisions to ignore duly-enacted Virginia law and simply not represent Virginia in court, as he is required to do, our so-called “public servants” are taking the Obama-inspired path of doing as they damn well please and to hell with following the laws written and passed by our representatives in Richmond. They – and particularly Mark Herring – are cheerfully breaking their oaths and thumbing their noses at Virginia’s citizens in the process. I have asked my neighbors if this is what they truly want and whether they understand that the precedent they are allowing (cheering, even?) will come around to bite them when someone they don’t support sits in that office’s seat. Some have assured me they don’t want this while others seem perfectly fine with it, so long as it’s their guy calling the shots.

Yes, I will remind them of that when the time comes. And no, I will no longer be urging any elected officers hailing from my side of the aisle to take the higher road. If this is the field these people want us to be playing on, then far be it from me to deny them the benefits of their lack of support for the law.

The question arises, however, what should we do about this? The Founders cannot possibly have meant for the ballot box to be the only method of dealing with an elected public officer’s corruption of the law and willful dereliction of duty. In fact, they didn’t and the mechanism they built into the system is impeachment. In Virginia, impeachment is governed by the Commonwealth’s constitution, specifically Article IV, Section 17, which reads:

Section 17. Impeachment.

The Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, judges, members of the State Corporation Commission, and all officers appointed by the Governor or elected by the General Assembly, offending against the Commonwealth by malfeasance in office, corruption, neglect of duty, or other high crime or misdemeanor may be impeached by the House of Delegates and prosecuted before the Senate, which shall have the sole power to try impeachments. When sitting for that purpose, the senators shall be on oath or affirmation, and no person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two-thirds of the senators present. Judgment in case of impeachment shall not extend further than removal from office and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust, or profit under the Commonwealth; but the person convicted shall nevertheless be subject to indictment, trial, judgment, and punishment according to law. The Senate may sit during the recess of the General Assembly for the trial of impeachments.

Now, there is no chance that anyone not actually trying to simply cover for the man, politically, can argue that Mark Herring is not fulfilling his duty – a duty he explicitly acknowledged while campaigning, I’d like to remind everyone – to defend the laws of the Commonwealth regardless of what he, personally, thinks of them. Herring is arguing that he’s right to not only not defend the law but to actually join with the plaintiffs seeking to have the law overturned because the law “is unconstitutional,” meaning in violation of the US Constitution. My problem with that is simple: Herring lacks the authority to speak for the Supreme Court and there is no ruling from SCOTUS on this matter. Therefore, it is his opinion that SCOTUS will find Virginia’s amendment unconstitutional and that is insufficient to leave the Commonwealth legally defenseless in a court of law. Which, let’s be frank, is exactly what he’s doing.

That dereliction of duty has prompted calls for impeachment and Delegate Bob Marshall has filed papers seeking just that. I approve and, for the record, I would approve of this action regardless of the political party affiliation of the AG. Also for the record, one of Herring’s attempts to cover his own ass is to rely on a decision by former AG Ken Cuccinelli to also refuse to defend a state law. The difference is that Mr. Cuccinelli actually followed the law and appointed a 3rd party attorney to litigate the case on behalf of the Commonwealth, something Herring is also required to do and which he has also blatantly refused to do.

More worrisome to me is the response to this filing by Marshall by House Speaker Howell, also a Republican. Howell has stated he doesn’t support impeachment. Really? Then what remedy does Speaker Howell propose to address the matter of an AG who is using his office as a political party headquarters? How, then, does the Speaker suggest the citizens of the Commonwealth hold the AG accountable for performing his duties? If his suggestion is to simply vote him out of office in 3 years, what does he propose we do about the damage to our state law and, frankly, the whole concept of representative government in the Commonwealth? What value is it to send our representation to Richmond to debate and determine the direction we, the citizens of the Commonwealth, wish our government to go when all it takes is 1 man with a personal opinion to take all of that and dump it in the trash?

If the Republicans will not stand up to this kind of dereliction, then… honestly… what good are they? And why should I fight to elect any more of them?