Every week in the past, the way forward for Virginia’s governor’s mansion appeared pretty apparent: Gov. Ralph Northam (D) would resign within the wake of the emergence of a racist photograph from his medical college yearbook, and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) would take over.
However it’s been an extended week. Now it appears extra seemingly that Fairfax will resign, following a number of allegations of sexual assault towards him. Northam appears to be ready to dig in, maybe irritating no yet one more than Virginia Legal professional Common Mark Herring (D), who, as second in line to the governor’s seat, would have appeared to be effectively positioned if each Northam and Fairfax stumbled. After all, his personal historical past of showing in blackface additionally put Herring on the rocks, leaving third-in-line Speaker of the Home Kirk Cox (R) in a out of the blue advantageous place.
With a lot up within the air within the state, we determined to place collectively a flowchart exhibiting how the dominoes may fall — if any do. We’re grateful to A.E. Dick Howard, Warner-Booker distinguished professor of worldwide legislation on the College of Virginia and government director of Virginia’s Fee on Constitutional Revision, for his persistence with a number of, out-of-the-blue emailed questions as issues received ever murkier.
Let’s begin with the (for now) extra seemingly department: Fairfax resigns. If he does, Northam can appoint a brand new lieutenant governor, who will serve till a particular election this November.
Keep in mind, although: Northam may also nonetheless resign. If he does so earlier than he appoints a brand new lieutenant governor, then Herring will get the decision. If he resigns after appointing a brand new lieutenant governor, then, in idea, that particular person may grow to be governor.
However not essentially. Howard defined in an e-mail, utilizing a hypothetical appointed Lt. Gov. Smith:
“[O]ne might make an argument that permitting Smith to grow to be Governor would defeat the intention of Article V, Part 16. That part lays out in nice element succession to the workplace of Governor,” he wrote. “To permit the method of resignation and the filling of vacancies to outcome within the set up of a Governor who lacked any mandate of the folks can be inconsistent with Part 7’s function and construction. I can think about the argument, due to this fact, that the cautious and particular course of specified by Part 16 would management over the final provision in Part 7.”
Howard helped draft the present structure, so he’s in all probability extra acquainted with its sections than you’re. What he’s saying, in essence, is that the elevation of somebody to the workplace who has no mandate from the state’s voters would violate the spirit of the articulated succession system. That succession system is likely to be decided (by a court docket, presumably) to carry extra weight than Northam’s handpicked lieutenant governor, and Herring would, once more, be appointed governor.
Now, if Herring had been to resign, Cox can be tapped (until Herring, too, appointed a lieutenant governor, sparking the identical constitutional debate as outlined by Howard above). If for some purpose Cox had been to resign — because you by no means know today — the structure stipulates that the Home of Delegates would merely elect a brand new governor.
If we return to the highest, we see that the department during which Northam resigns first seems to be a lot the identical because the one if Fairfax resigns first. All of it comes right down to the place the collection of resignations stops — and if the appointed lieutenant governor can go constitutional muster.
There’s another choice, too: That our hyperactive information cycle will transfer on from the travails of Virginia’s politicians and all 4 males stay the place they’re during their phrases. Weirdly, that’s in all probability the least seemingly situation of all.