EDITORIAL: Lawlessness in Virginia

Republicans consider a law forcing the Democratic governor to do his duty

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Republicans in the Virginia General Assembly are considering whether to take a page from the Boy Scout Handbook: Be prepared. Virginia’s new governor and attorney general, highly skilled partisan Democrats, signal they aren’t likely to play nice.

Delegate C. Todd Gilbert, Shenandoah Republican, gets it. He offers eminently sensible legislation to require that those entrusted with the executive power must uphold the law, or any member of the General Assembly can defend the law in court.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe and state Attorney General Mark R. Herring have broadly hinted they intend to skip enforcement when the law is inconvenient. Likely candidates for official neglect are the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and recently imposed strict regulations of abortion clinics.

Legislators shouldn’t have to see to it that state laws are properly implemented and enforced. That duty isn’t included as an option in the oaths of office both Mr. McAuliffe and Mr. Herring took Jan. 11. They placed their left hands on the Bible and solemnly swore they would “support the Constitution of the United States and the constitution of the commonwealth of Virginia” and “faithfully and impartially discharge all the duties incumbent” upon them as governor and attorney general, each “according to the best of my ability.”

Mr. McAuliffe promised during his campaign to use the governor’s administrative power to water down the abortion-clinic law. In this, he would follow the example of President Obama who repeatedly and unilaterally amended and altered provisions of the Obamacare law, mostly for damage control, without authorization from Congress. Mr. Herring says he’s not sure he would defend the abortion regulations if they are challenged in court.

Mr. Herring further declined to say whether he would defend the state’s preservation of marriage as a union of one man and one woman, which faces a pair of federal court challenges. That’s the position U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. took when he refused to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Congressional Republicans hired a private lawyer to do Mr. Holder’s job. The Supreme Court struck down that law, but that does not excuse Mr. Holder’s abandoning his duty as the nation’s top law enforcement officer to enforce a law that was constitutional until the highest court with jurisdiction ruled otherwise.

Some Republicans in the Virginia General Assembly are concerned that Mr. Herring as attorney general will provide Mr. McAuliffe legal cover to use executive orders to thwart the will of the House of Delegates, where Republicans hold a veto-proof majority.

House Majority Leader M. Kirkland Cox, Colonial Heights Republican, says he’s “a bit disturbed” by the anticipation of such conflict. Democrats glibly dismiss those concerns. If someone doesn’t like what the attorney general does or does not do, says one Democratic delegate from Fairfax County, “the solution is an election.” Partisan attitudes like that guarantee a long four years in Richmond. Once more we learn the lesson that elections have consequences — but so will the next one.

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