“I’ve never seen anything as brutally clear as this…an odd, set, stony quality to it, as if tomorrow’s already happening and there’s nothing you can do about it. The way you feel before an ill-considered attack – knowing it’ll fail. But you cannot stop it.”
– General John Buford (acted by Sam Elliot), Gettysburg (1993)
Of course, Buford did manage to “stop” his nightmare scenario (the Union Army charging up a hill that could not be taken) by his own actions. I doubt I will be as successful, but I feel I have to try to stop what will be a catastrophic error by the Richmond Republicans: the impeachment of Mark Herring.
Plans to impeach Herring are already afoot. My friend Shaun Kenney has the details. The crime: Herring agreed with plaintiffs suing the state over the 2006 Marriage Amendment. The plaintiffs said it violates the federal constitution, and Herring essentially said the plaintiffs were right. This is apparently a “constitutional crisis.”
I beg to differ. The “crisis” will be within the Republican Party if they actually try to impeach and remove Herring. This is a mistake on multiple levels.
First, there is the matter of constitutions: In case anyone forgot, Herring’s oath is to uphold both the Federal and state constitutions, and the Federal one comes first. You can argue with Herring’s reasoning on whether or not the 2006 amendment violates the Federal Constitution, but he has the power to express his opinion and act on it. To attempt to remove him from office for upholding the Federal constitution (as he sees it) is a much greater danger than anything Herring has done. I would also note that this great concern for the state constitution was appallingly missing back in 2007 when “transportation solutions” were a priority, the result being a dog’s breakfast of legislation that nearly every Republican not named Bob Marshall swore was a great achievement, yet was laughed out of town by a unanimous state Supreme Court. Voters might find the idea that the Constitution is paramount when it can stop same-sex-marriage but irrelevant when it protects their money from the taxman to be…a bit strange (more on that later).
Second, there is the question of Herring’s action: I’m reading some bizarre hair-splitting from some who say that Herring didn’t have to defend the 2006 amendment, but he shouldn’t have opposed it publicly. Why? Based on the rulings from the federal Supreme Court on this matter last year, refusing to defend and openly advocating for the plaintiffs is a distinction without a difference. Does it really matter that Herring is simply open about his agreement with the plaintiffs?
Next up, we have the political implications, which are vast and multi-dimensional. For starters, as I noted above, the RPV’s respect for the state constitution is hardly consistent, and Democrats will gleefully remind voters of that for months and years. Again, voters saw the Richmond Republican crew pass and celebrate a blatantly unconstitutional tax scheme less than a decade ago. They will wonder why the constitution is so important now, and they will conclude that the Republicans care more about stopping gay marriages than keeping taxes low and government limited. That’s the political equivalent of drowning the Commonwealth in blue paint.
Yet there are also ramifications for just this year. Political capital that would otherwise be saved up for stopping Medicaid expansion (Brian Schoeneman explains the financial implications here; he didn’t mention that Medicaid does – at best – nothing to improve the health of the poor, but that would just reinforce the point) or Governor McAuliffe’s budget spending spree will be wasted on an effort doomed to fail (seven Senate Democrats would have to vote to remove Herring from office, and that’s not happening).
Finally, there is the one thing we are all forgetting – the flip side of what Herring has done: I may be the only person to notice this, but there are serious problems with the 1971 Virginia Constitution. Article 10 (on education) specifically discriminates against schools of faith, and could be read to make vouchers illegal in the Commonwealth (a potential violation of freedom of religion). Article 11 (on environmental protection) could be used to ride roughshod over property rights (and the Fifth and Fourteenth federal amendments). Do we really want future Attorneys General to arbitrarily defend an overreaching state government? Or muzzle itself in the face of such overreach? I feel the question answers itself.
For these reasons, impeaching Mark Herring is a terrible idea – one that will damage Virginia, the cause of limited government within Virginia, and the Republican Party of Virginia for years – if not decades.
Cross-posted to the right-wing liberal