After the Senate of Virginia voted to censure Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield) last week, the lawmaker filed a lawsuit in federal court on Monday seeking to have the public rebuke expunged.
Chase filed the suit against the Senate, naming Clerk Susan Schaar as a defendant, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia over alleged violations of the First and 14th Amendments as well as the legislative body’s own rules.
“The public censure against me was issued by the political elite class of the Senate who disagreed with my political speech and political expressions,” Chase said in a statement on Monday. “The First Amendment of the Constitution applies to everyone and you do not lose it when you become an elected official. 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.”
In a complaint filed with the court, Chase, who is a Republican candidate for governor, argues that the censure caused “substantial mental anguish, tarnished reputation” as well as affecting her standing as an elected legislator and negatively impacting her candidacy for higher office.
The censure resolution, introduced by Sen. John Bell (D-Loudoun), was passed by the Senate last Wednesday by a 24-9 vote with six Republican legislators opting not to take any action on the measure. It resulted in Chase being moved to last in seniority among the 40 members of the body for failure to uphold her oath of office and conduct unbecoming of a Senator.
Bell had originally introduced a resolution against Chase that focused on her addressing a crowd in Washington D.C. hours before the deadly Capitol riots and her comments on participants afterward. That version was passed out of the Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee through a party-line vote.
To ease concerns from some Republicans that the censure revolved around free speech, an amendment was made which added different instances of “unacceptable conduct” by Chase during her tenure such as calling the Democratic Party of Virginia racist to its core and a public encounter with a Capitol Police officer in 2019.
The lawsuit seeks a judicial declaration that the conduct stated in the original and substitute censure is protected by the First Amendment as political free speech and expression and is not sanctionable. Also, it asks for judgement that the Senate violated Chase’s Due Process Rights under the 14th Amendment during the process of the bill going to the floor for passage.
Also cited in the lawsuit is a ruling by Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax when the censure was being considered for passage. Fairfax found that the resolution was not properly in front of the body since the Privileges and Elections Committee had not investigated the claims of improper conduct therein as set forth in Senate rule 53(b). Nevertheless, Fairfax’s ruling was not sustained by a 21-vote margin.
Fairfax is named in the lawsuit in his official capacity as president of the Senate.
“The right to due process for all is of paramount importance in our system,” a spokeswoman for Fairfax said. “We will await the court’s review of this matter.”
Schaar told The Virginia Star on Tuesday that she had no comment on the lawsuit.
Virginia Beach Attorney Tim Anderson, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Chase, told The Star that after two hearings with the state Solicitor General Toby Heytens, representing the Senate, and a U.S. District Court judge on Tuesday that his request to expedite the case as reasonably as possible was granted and a dispositive hearing was set for March 19th.
Anderson also mentioned that during the call the judge said he would have concerns about a censure taking place that may have violated the Senate’s rules and seemed to be more interested in the due process arguments rather than First Amendment issues.
Chase was elected to represent the 11th Senate District in 2016 and re-appointed to second four-year terms by voters in 2019.
“I am bringing this fight not just for myself but for all of Virginia,” Chase said in a statement. “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.”
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