Why impeachment for Fairfax?

Sa'ad E;-Amin | 2/15/2019, 6 a.m.
When the accusations of sexual assault were made against Lt. Gov. Justin E. Fairfax by two different women, he stated ...


Sa'ad El-Amin

When the accusations of sexual assault were made against Lt. Gov. Justin E. Fairfax by two different women, he stated without equivocation that the sexual liaisons were consensual. At this point, Lt. Gov. Fairfax must be given the presumption of innocence, which is the cornerstone of American jurisprudence.

The accusations have not been made under oath and were carefully crafted by lawyers who were recently retained. This is not to say that the accusers are not telling the truth, because this can only be determined after a hearing in which they and Lt. Gov. Fairfax testify. At this point, the matter is at equipoise.

A hearing should be fact-finding rather than an impeachment hearing where the conclusion is whether the accusation or accusations are founded or unfounded. The upside of such a hearing is that it will focus on the accusations rather than a political outcome.

Yet, many local, state and national elected politicians have demanded that Lt. Gov. Fairfax resign, which means they have reached the conclusion that, despite Lt. Gov. Fairfax’s strenuous protestations and denials, he is guilty. Some have gone farther, demanding that if he does not resign, he should be impeached. This is especially troubling because the absence of corroboration makes this a classic “red light/green light” case.

Is it because Lt. Gov. Fairfax is an African-American that Delegate Patrick A. Hope, a fellow Democrat, threatened to introduce articles of impeachment if the lieutenant governor did not resign by Feb. 11? I ask this question because there has not been an impeachment in Virginia in 79 years, and there were no calls for impeachment for former Gov. Bob McDonnell, who served out his four-year tenure in office.

Almost immediately after leaving office, Gov. McDonnell was indicted, tried and convicted for offenses that occurred while he was governor, juxtaposed to the accusations against Lt. Gov. Fairfax that allegedly occurred 15 and 20 years ago.

This same question holds true for the blackface incidents of Gov. Ralph S. Northam and Attorney General Mark R. Herring, which they have admitted. While they have been called upon to resign, there have been no calls for their impeachment. In fact, Speaker of the House Kirk Cox, a Republican, who is the third in line to become governor and who has called on Gov. Northam to resign, refused to use impeachment to force either Gov. Northam or Mr. Herring out of office.

Granted, the accusations against Lt. Gov. Fairfax are more serious than those against Gov. Northam and Mr. Herring. However, their admissions constitute impeachable offenses given the wording of Article IV, Section 17 of the Virginia Constitution, which allows impeachment for conduct which constitutes “malfeasance in office, corruption, neglect of duty, or other high crime or misdemeanor…”. The operative word here is “allows” rather than “dictates,” which means that impeachment is discretionary and not mandatory.

Why is it that Lt. Gov. Fairfax is not given the same rights that have been accorded to Gov. Northam and Mr. Herring, e.g., that he be allowed to decide whether he is going to resign rather than being impeached. If impeachment is on the table for Lt. Gov. Fairfax, it should also be on the table for Gov. Northam and Mr. Herring, who at this point appear to be “moonwalking” away from their unvarnished and abhorrent disrespect for black people.

The writer is a former member of Richmond City Council and president of Strategic and Litigation Consultants.