Fairfax, facing looming legislative hearing, warns of ‘political lynching’

Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax was surrounded by reporters Monday inside the Capitol. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Moments before the General Assembly adjourned for the year Sunday, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax addressed two sexual assault allegations from the dais where he presides over the Senate, tying a House GOP push for legislative hearings to the state’s history of lynchings.

“If we go backwards to rush to judgment, and we allow for political lynchings without any due process, any facts, any evidence being heard, then I think we do a disservice to this very body in which we all serve,” he told lawmakers in his first remarks on the issue from the floor.

“I’ve heard much about anti-lynching on the floor of this very Senate, where people were not given any due process whatsoever. And we knew that. And we talk about hundreds, at least 100 terror lynchings that have happened in the Commonwealth of Virginia under those very same auspices. And yet, we stand here in a rush to judgment with nothing but accusations and no facts. And we decide that we are willing to do the same thing.”

The speech was met with silence on the floor and Democratic lawmakers declined to comment as they left the chamber.

Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, shrugged off questions about how he felt about the remarks as he walked away with an aide.

Sen. Jenn McClellan, D-Richmond, who this year sponsored a resolution acknowledging profound regret for the state’s history of lynching, was at a loss for words, saying she was still processing Fairfax’s remarks.

Here is Fairfax’s speech in its entirety:

“I appreciate your words and sentiments very much, the words of encouragement that I have received and my family has received.

“And I will say this, the reason that I’ve been able to provide the way that I have is that God is good and the truth is on my side, and I am very firm in both of those things. And my faith is unshakable. And I am grateful to each one of you for what you have done to give me the space to do what needs to be done and say, what needs to be said and prove what needs to be proven.

“But I will also say this — and this was not something I planned to talk about. We talked a lot on this floor about wrongs that have happened in the past. We are at an intersection of history right here in this moment in the Commonwealth of Virginia; 400 years since the meeting of this General Assembly in 1619, and 400 years, since the first enslaved Africans were brought here to the Commonwealth of Virginia, in Hampton and Point Comfort. And those are the two strands that have run through the veins, the Commonwealth of Virginia and through this nation for those four centuries. And those are the two demons that we’ve had to battle and choose which course we’re going to take.

“And in this moment, we have to decide what the next 400 years look like. And if we go backwards, in a rush to judgment. If we eliminate due process, which is brought to the states by the 14th Amendment. Ironically, in this case, the post-Civil War amendment, along with the 13th, 14th and 15th, amendments, are meant to give rights and due process to people who had been denied of their entire existence on this soil.

“If we go backwards to rush to judgment, and we allow for political lynchings without any due process, any facts, any evidence being heard, then I think we do a disservice to this very body in which we all serve. And I want to stand in in this moment, in the truth, not only which is tested my constitution personally, but is testing the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia and of the United States of America. And I want to stand in this moment as someone who hopefully represents a new way forward, where everyone should always be heard. And everyone should always get due process. And we should always go forward toward the truth.

“So we have a chance to be an example, once again, to the world at this very tough moment in history. And we’re either going to take it or we are going to deny ourselves the opportunity to be leaders. And so, I love my family. I love you all. And I promise you that I will stand very firm and very strong. And as I have said, from day one, I am very confident in the truth. I want a full investigation because I’m confident in the truth and because everyone deserves due process.

“And so I turned 40 last Sunday, and I have lived 40 years accusation free. And there’s a reason for that. And none of this is a coincidence. But we have decide who we are. And I’m happy to be just one representative example of whether or not we’re going to rise to the better angels of our nature or go back down a very dark political road where 50 years ago, had fingers and putting them in the exact same way, it’d be a very different outcome. I wouldn’t be standing up here on the dais. A very different outcome would have happened with no facts, no due process, no evidence, no nothing.

“And so I’m standing firm that truth for anyone who has ever been a victim of any kind, and I’m making sure that everyone is heard, everyone’s due process rights are protected, and that we decide that we’re going be very different than what we’ve been in terms of our commonwealth, in terms of our country.

“I’ve heard much about anti-lynching on the floor of this very Senate, where people were not given any due process whatsoever. And we knew that. And we talk about hundreds, at least 100 terror lynchings that have happened in the Commonwealth of Virginia under those very same auspices. And yet, we stand here in a rush to judgment with nothing but accusations and no facts. And we decide that we are willing to do the same thing.

“So, I trust in my God, I trust in the fairness of each one of you, I trust in your good hearts. And this is much bigger than me, I can assure you — much bigger than me. And I am very hopeful and I believe very firmly that we will get to a better place and rise to better angels of our nature. And should anyone decide that they desire to see a downfall of me or the constitution or of victims or of anyone else, I would just ask that you look and reflect and think about who you are, think about who we are, and think about who we want to be.

“And I promise you if we do that, we will end up in the right place. So God bless you all. Thank you very much. I’m proud of every single one of you.”

From The Bulletin, the Mercury’s blog, where we post quick hits on the news of the day, odds and ends and commentary.