Democrats made good on their threat to sue Republicans over control of the Virginia Senate on Monday, filing a lawsuit in Richmond City Circuit Court.
The suit, filed by Democratic Caucus Chairman Donald McEachin, seeks a declaratory judgment that Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling does not have the constitutional right to vote on matters of Senate organization. It also seeks a temporary injunction preventing Bolling from voting on organization until the issue is resolved.
Since elections last month left the Senate evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, the parties have argued over control of the chamber.
Republicans, who already hold the House and governor’s mansion, contend that they’re in charge of the Senate since Bolling (R) has the power to cast tie-breaking votes.
But Democrats argue that Bolling’s voting power is limited, and does not extend to judgeships, the budget and organizational matters such as committee appointments. Democrats say the parties should share power, as they did in the 1990s, the only other time the 40-seat chamber was split down the middle.
“The voters elected 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans to the Senate. [Yet], in spite of that, the Republicans choose to ignore these results and, instead, claim absolute power and authority,” McEachin (D-Henrico) said in a prepared statement. “This willingness to ignore the evenly divided results of the election is unfair and unacceptable.
“In Virginia, only an elected member of the Senate can vote on the rules of the Senate. The Lieutenant Governor was not elected to the Senate,” McEachin said. “Unfortunately, the Republicans have not shown any inclination to work with us to resolve this impasse. In a 20-20 Senate, power should be shared, but, instead, the Republicans insist on an arrogant power grab.”
Democrats announced their intention to sue last month. Republicans characterized them as “sore losers” for turning to the courts.
“Unfortunately, the Democrats are trying to achieve in court what they could not achieve at the ballot box,” said Ibbie Hedrick, Bolling’s communications director. “We strongly believe the lieutenant governor has the authority to cast votes on organizational and procedural matters, but we will not comment any further on pending litigation.”
The Republican Party of Virginia issued a statement: “The election is over. The Democrats lost. Senator McEachin needs to get over it.”