by Emilio Jaksetic
In the upcoming November 2023 election, the Democratic Party candidate for Virginia Senate District 37 is Saddam Azlan Salim. Salim won the Democratic nomination by defeating Chap Peterson in the June 20, 2023 primary.
A profile of Mr. Salim is available on Ballotpedia. A hypertext link in the Ballotpedia profile goes to Salim’s campaign webpage. Among those endorsements are three by progressive prosecutors: Commonwealth Attorneys Steve Descano, (Fairfax County), Buta Biberaj (Loudoun County), and Parissa Dehghani-Tafti (Arlington County/Falls Church). On the face of it, those endorsements reflect the traditional practice of candidates to solicit and accept endorsements in support of their campaigns. However, the endorsements by the three progressive prosecutors are a problem for Salim because he is running for a seat in the Virginia Senate.
Soliciting and accepting the endorsement of a particular person or group does not mean or imply that the candidate is in complete agreement with every act performed or statement made by the endorser. However, the three progressive prosecutors have made a point of claiming that their “criminal justice reforms” are good for Virginians and expressing their intent to continue pursuing them.
The endorsement of Salim’s candidacy by those three progressive Commonwealth Attorneys indicates the following: (1) those prosecutors believe or know he is sympathetic to their “criminal justice reform” efforts; and (2) they want voters to consider their endorsements as a reason for voting for Salim because they believe many voters are in agreement with their “criminal justice reform” efforts. Furthermore, Salim’s acceptance of their endorsements indicates he is sympathetic to, or in agreement with, the “criminal justice reforms” of the three progressive prosecutors.
I use the phrase “criminal justice reform” in quotes deliberately. Why? Because those “criminal justice reform” efforts are a violation of the Virginia Constitution and a usurpation of the legislative authority of the Virginia General Assembly to enact statutes pertaining to criminal law. On May 19, 2021, Bacon’s Rebellion posted an article I wrote on how Commonwealth Attorney Descano has been violating the Virginia Constitution: “Descano’s Unconstitutional Actions.” That article is available here. To summarize the main points of that article:
1. Prosecutorial discretion is broad, but it is not absolute, unlimited, or unfettered in nature.
2. Like all other Virginia officials, Commonwealth Attorneys take an oath of office to support the Virginia Constitution (Virginia Constitution, Article II, Section 7).
3. The Virginia Constitution requires the separation of legislative, judicial, and executive powers, and no official can exercise the powers constitutionally granted to another branch of government (Virginia Constitution, Article I, Section 5). Furthermore, no Virginia official can suspend the operation of Virginia law without the consent of the General Assembly (Virginia Constitution, Article I, Section 7).
4. Commonwealth Attorneys are bound by those constitutional limitations, and cannot invoke prosecutorial discretion to engage in actions that ignore, circumvent, or infringe those constitutional limitations.
Some of the “criminal justice reforms” pursued by progressive prosecutors are violations of the Virginia Constitution and a usurpation of the constitutional authority of the General Assembly to enact, modify, or repeal provisions of the criminal statutes. It would be appropriate for the progressive prosecutors to make recommendations to the General Assembly about enacting criminal justice reform statutes. But it is unconstitutional for them to unilaterally implement any reforms that exceed the constitutional constraints they must operate within.
How does this all specifically relate to Salim’s acceptance of the endorsements by the three progressive prosecutors? If elected to the Virginia Senate, Salim will take the oath of office to uphold the Virginia Constitution (Virginia Constitution, Article II, Section 7 and Virginia Code, Section 49-1) , and as a State Senator he will be voting on legislation, including statutes pertaining to criminal law. How can Salim justify accepting the endorsements of progressive prosecutors who are acting in violation of the Virginia Constitution and usurping the authority of the General Assembly? How can any candidate for a seat in the General Assembly justify accepting the endorsement of a person or group that seeks to nullify or refuse to enforce laws enacted by the General Assembly?
Does Salim welcome the willingness of the progressive prosecutors to unilaterally and arbitrarily decide whether to enforce criminal statutes enacted by the General Assembly? Does Salim think there is nothing wrong with his “standing with” progressive prosecutors whose policies and practices undermine and usurp the constitutional authority of the General Assembly?
In the upcoming November 2023 election, Salim needs to explain to the voters why it makes any sense for him to accept the endorsements of progressive prosecutors or endorse their “criminal justice reforms” despite their violation of the Virginia Constitution and their usurpation of the authority of the General Assembly. And voters need to ask themselves why they should vote for a candidate who “stands with” progressive prosecutors whose policies and practices undermine and usurp the constitutional authority of the office for which the candidate is running.
Emilio Jaksetic, a retired lawyer, is a Republican in Fairfax County