It’s about time.
Ever since 15-days-to-slow-the-spread in March, some of us have wondered when the lawsuits would start flying.
At what point would the legal community try to stop the governor of Virginia from abusing the vast emergency powers that he grabbed three months ago and shows no signs of relinquishing?
How long would the commonwealth’s legal eagles yawn while the governor picked winners and losers — big box stores were big winners, small businesses were crushed — with his stay-at-home and crowd-limiting orders?
Yes, there was one lawsuit, brought by an indoor gun range in Lynchburg that successfully challenged the shutdown on constitutional grounds. There has also been a challenge to a church closure on the Eastern Shore.
For the most part, though, the commonwealth’s juris doctors sat meekly on the sidelines apparently unconcerned, while the governor issued heavy-handed executive orders that seemingly stomped on rights protected by both the U.S. and Virginia Constitutions.
Enter State Sen. Chap Petersen, a Democrat from Fairfax and an attorney who has been highly critical of Northam’s executive orders. He objects to the duration of the governor’s orders, the uneven application of rules and the fact that the governor has not summoned state legislators to Richmond to weigh in on Northam’s extraordinary exercise of emergency powers.
There is a role for state lawmakers in all this. In Pennsylvania yesterday, the state legislature voted to terminate their governor’s business-killing shutdown.
This week Petersen filed suit against the governor and the state health commissioner on behalf of two clients whose businesses are reeling from Northam’s actions.
One is Jon Tigges, who owns Zion Springs, a 24-acre luxury bed and breakfast spread in Loudoun Country. This bucolic refuge is a popular wedding venue. But the governor’s no-groups-larger-than-10-unless-you’re-protesting-police-brutality-or-Confederate-monuments meant that 16 weddings booked for this spring and summer have been cancelled.
As a result, Tigges lost half his annual income.
Petersen, who represents many Korean small businesses, is also representing Linda Park, whose Fredericksburg restaurant is effectively shut down because the health department will not allow her servers to prepare tableside food.
Petersen has filed suits in both state and federal courts, alleging numerous unconstitutional actions by Northam.
In essence, Petersen argues that the emergency provisions in state law were never intended to be open-ended with the governor controlling all aspects of life in the commonwealth with no expiration date.
He charges that Northam’s limits on gatherings of more than 10 people “have de facto killed the business of Tigges.”
While Tigges continues to hemorrhage money, Petersen points out:
On the weekend of June 6-7, 2020, in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, Northern Virginia saw at least forty gatherings related to remembering his death and/or protesting the actions leading to it. Nearly all of those gatherings involved large numbers of people in a limited space. For example, the “Black Lives Matter” rally in Fairfax City on June 6, 2020 — which undersigned counsel attended — involved at least three hundred people standing for hours in a downtown park of approximately 1.5 acres. No police were involved and the march was encouraged and authorized by local government.
That double standard, Petersen argues, “is both arbitrary and capricious.”
Hard to argue with that.
Win or lose, Petersen should be applauded for understanding the gravity of what Northam has done and the damage it wrought on ordinary Virginians. Challenging the governor’s authoritarian actions takes courage.
Especially because Petersen — like Northam — is a Democrat.
“I’m an old-school Democrat,” Petersen told listeners on the “Kerry and Mike” radio show on WNIS AM-790 Wednesday morning.
Yes he is. The kind who cares about constitutional rights.
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