Court upholds state GOP’s May convention plan
Judge throws out Chase's lawsuit against Republican Party of Virginia
The Republican Party of Virginia is clear to move forward with its plans for a May 1 convention, after a Richmond Circuit Court judge on Friday tossed out a lawsuit filed by state Sen. Amanda Chase to force the party to hold a primary election to choose its candidates for governor, attorney general and lieutenant governor.
Following the hearing, the party’s general counsel said a state-run primary to choose the party’s candidates for statewide office is “off the table. We can’t have one.” Chris Marston explained that the party’s State Central Committee can’t call a meeting — due to rules regarding advance notification of members — before the Tuesday deadline set by the State Board of Elections for parties to declare their plans to hold a state-run primary election.
He added that the committee, set to meet Feb. 27, is expected to decide logistics for its nominating methods in coming weeks.
Richmond Circuit Court substitute Judge Margaret Spencer ruled Friday afternoon that Chase, R-Chesterfield, who is leading the Republican field of gubernatorial candidates in recent polls, does not have standing to seek an injunction that would have prevented the state party from moving forward with plans for its May 1 convention to nominate GOP 2021 candidates for governor, attorney general and lieutenant governor.
Chase’s attorney, Tim Anderson of Virginia Beach, said after the ruling he would talk to his client about next steps, including the possibility of appealing. Chase was not in court Friday because she was participating in the state Senate session, which is convening at the Science Museum of Virginia.
In a text message from the Senate floor, Chase said, “We tried today to make sure Virginians could participate in the Republican nomination process for governor, but the judge said it should be the governor of Virginia who brings this case before them. Primaries are best for Virginians as they are more inclusive and don’t create extra hoops for the people who want to vote to jump through. I’ve at least raised awareness as to what they are doing and taken the smoke out of a smoke-filled room.
“The people are watching. They see what they’re doing and they’re not happy about it. It’s up to the [State Central Committee] to do the right thing.”
In an email Friday night, Chase said that she does not plan to appeal the decision because of the Tuesday deadline and asked her supporters “to lobby members of the State Central Committee and ask them to support a primary before Tuesday’s deadline.”
Chase’s suit requested that the Richmond Circuit Court declare that the party is allowed only to hold an in-person convention — leading to the inevitable decision that such a gathering would be illegal under Gov. Ralph Northam’s Executive Order 72 to prevent the spread of the pandemic.
Chase argued that because gatherings of more than 10 people have been outlawed by executive order to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the state GOP “has chosen a method that is illegal under the governor’s current executive orders and is secretly planning to choose the statewide nominees themselves, bypassing the people of Virginia. I will not stand for this.” She said also that the state party’s plans amount to “socialism,” by allowing only a few people in power to decide on candidates.
Because the party has not yet decided precisely its nominating method — including the possibility of holding a party-run primary known as a “canvass” that allows a primary in which the party sets its own rules, or unassembled conventions similar to the “drive-thru” events held by the party to pick congressional nominees — Chase’s injunction request is moot, Spencer said. To have standing, the plaintiff must allege an injury based on “current facts, not future facts,” she added.
The Republican Party’s attorney, Lee Goodman of Washington, D.C., argued, “This is a manufactured crisis. It is wholly speculative about the future.” He added that although Northam’s order currently limits gatherings to 10 people, restrictions could be loosened by late spring or summer and that the executive order in question is set to expire Feb. 28. Although the state’s deadline for parties to declare they would hold a state-run primary is next week, he said, the GOP has more time to decide its method of nomination and logistics before the state’s June 8 deadline for nominations.
Anderson, though, said that Chase “isn’t trying to tell the party what to do,” and contended that regardless of the governor’s executive orders, holding a gathering of more than 10,000 people in one place is “dangerous. You can’t do that, period.”
The Democratic Party has already decided to hold primary elections June 8 to choose its nominees for statewide office.