RICHMOND, Va. (CN) — A Virginia senator who was censured with bipartisan support last week for speaking at former President Donald Trump’s Save America rally just before the deadly Capitol riot has filed a federal lawsuit against the legislative body.
The complaint filed in Richmond federal court Monday morning by Virginia Beach attorney Timothy V. Anderson claims Amanda Chase's censure amounted to a violation of the second-term official’s First and 14th Amendment rights.
The Chesterfield Republican, who calls herself “Donald Trump in heels” for her unflinching support of the former president, claims she was denied the right to representation during an initial committee meeting held a week prior to the final censure vote. She did not attend the committee hearing despite being invited to speak on her behalf.
“The issuance of a censure, issued by the Virginia Senate, was unlawful and contrary to the plaintiff’s constitutional rights,” Chase’s legal team said in a statement announcing the lawsuit Monday.
The censure vote last Wednesday was the Senate’s first since the 1980s, when a member faced criminal charges. Three Republicans crossed party lines to censure Chase, who spoke at the Jan. 6 rally and called those who subsequently raided the Capitol “patriots” in fundraising materials.
Chase argues in her lawsuit that she should be afforded legislative immunity because her speech took place outside of official Senate proceedings, and a lack of immunity violates her right to due process.
In a statement posted on Facebook, Chase’s attorney defended her actions, which the
the censure resolution said “aggravated tensions, misled constituents and citizens, and obstructed the Senate's business.”
“As Americans we do not have to agree with what someone says but we must agree to defend each American’s right to freely exercise their First Amendment rights,” wrote Anderson, a conservative attorney who has represented other Republican elected officials in lawsuits against the state’s Democratic leadership. “Any attempts to silence legitimate political free speech will be met with maximum lawful resistance by this office on behalf of any client of this firm.”
Chase asks a federal judge to declare her speech supporting the Capitol insurrectionists is protected under the First Amendment and that the censure process violated her right to due process. She’s also asking the judge to reinstate her seniority within the Senate after the censure put her last in the chamber’s rankings.
Rich Schragger, a Perre Bowen Professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, expressed doubt about a federal court intervening in the actions of the Virginia Senate.
“The acts of legislators related to their own declarations or in establishing rules that govern their own internal deliberations are normally clothed with virtually absolute immunity,” he said in an email, noting Chase’s suit should fail on this first step.
A spokesperson for the Virginia Senate’s Democratic Caucus said they were unable to comment Monday morning. A request for comment sent to Senate Republicans was not returned by press time.
Beyond the censure vote, Chase is seeking to win the state GOP’s nomination for the 2021 gubernatorial election. Locally, she’s found strong support from the far-right wing of her party, winning her seat by 39 points last year. But her chances in the statewide race, where a Republican hasn’t won in over a decade, are low despite her frequent claims that she is the frontrunner.
The Virginia Republican Party is still trying to decide whether its nominee will be chosen in a primary or a convention. A decision on the process is expected by the end of the month. Chase’s chances within her party have been boosted by a GOP shift to the right in Virginia and nationwide.
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