The Bulletin

Judge tosses Chase’s lawsuit seeking to overturn Va. Senate censure

By: - May 13, 2021 1:24 pm

Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, speaks to members of the Amelia County Republican Committee. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

A federal judge has thrown out Sen. Amanda Chase’s lawsuit seeking to undo the Virginia Senate’s vote to formally censure her earlier this year, ruling that the legislative body and its staff are immune from a legal challenge over the decision.

Chase, a Chesterfield County Republican who finished third in the party’s recent nominating contest for governor, had claimed her colleagues overstepped by censuring her over  comments she made related to the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. Chase at one point called participants “patriots” and offered praise for Ashli Babbitt, a supporter of former President Donald Trump who was fatally shot as she tried to push her way through a broken door into a secure area of the Capitol.

Though Chase claimed she had been improperly punished and demoted for protected political speech, Judge Robert E. Payne of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia dismissed the suit Wednesday, finding the state Senate, as an extension of Virginia, has sovereign immunity from a challenge brought in federal court. Senate Clerk Susan Clarke Schaar, the judge found, has legislative immunity as a Senate staffer and is also immune from the suit.

Finding Chase had no grounds to sue the named defendants, the judge didn’t get into arguments over whether the decision to censure Chase was fundamentally a political question, not a legal one.

The opinion cited case law establishing that disciplining members is a “core legislative act,” making the motives of the individual senators who voted to censure Chase irrelevant to the legal question.

Attorney General Mark Herring’s office represented the defendants in the case.

The Senate Democratic Caucus issued a statement Wednesday applauding the outcome.

“As Senators, we hold ourselves to a high standard because we are leaders and role models in our community,” the caucus said. “Sen. Chase’s lawsuit was just another occurrence in her pattern of disrespectful and disorderly behavior, and we are glad to see her contrived complaints be thrown out of court.”

Three Republicans joined the Senate’s 21 Democrats in the 24-9 vote for Chase’s censure.

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Graham Moomaw
Graham Moomaw

A veteran Virginia politics reporter, Graham grew up in Hillsville and Lynchburg, graduating from James Madison University and earning a master's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Before joining the Mercury in 2019, he spent six years at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, most of that time covering the governor's office, the General Assembly and state politics. He also covered city hall and politics at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville.