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Legislator censured after praising Capitol rioters files suit against Virginia Senate

State Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield) speaks against passage of a censure resolution last week. On Monday, she filed a lawsuit contending the formal rebuke violated her rights. (Bob Brown/AP)

RICHMOND — A Republican state senator who was censured after she praised those who stormed the U.S. Capitol as "patriots" filed a federal lawsuit on Monday, contending the rebuke from her Virginia Senate colleagues violated her constitutional rights.

The Senate voted last week to censure Sen. Amanda F. Chase (Chesterfield), a Trump-style populist seeking the GOP nomination for governor, for what it described as a pattern of “unacceptable conduct.”

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The censure resolution, which passed with bipartisan support, criticized Chase for praising the insurrectionists who breached the Capitol on Jan. 6. But the measure also detailed incidents stretching back several years, including a 2019 episode in which she cursed at a state Capitol police officer over a parking spot.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Richmond, contends that all of the remarks and actions in question are protected by Chase’s right to free speech and political expression and requests her censure be overturned and expunged.

A censure is a formal rebuke with no other penalties. The General Assembly has censured just one other member in modern times, in 1987.

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Along with the full Senate, the suit names Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) and Senate Clerk Susan Clarke Schaar as defendants. Attorney General Mark Herring (D), whose office would typically defend the Senate, declined to comment, as did Schaar.

Fairfax sided with Chase on a procedural matter during the censure debate last week, when she contended her due process rights had been violated. For the past two years, Fairfax has claimed that he’s been denied due process related to a pair of sexual assault allegations that he’s denied and has sought to have criminally investigated.

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“The right to due process for all is of paramount importance in our system,” read a statement released by Fairfax’s office. “We will await the court’s review of this matter.”

Chase’s suit alleges that the Senate made procedural errors as it pursued censure, in part ­because the resolution that passed the chamber was significantly different from the original, proposed by Sen. John J. Bell (D-Loudoun).

A Senate committee passed the original version, but on the Senate floor, members amended it to make it more about Chase’s actions than speech, and to include a broader sampling of alleged infractions. Those range from statements that are not uncommon among Virginia Republicans, such as Chase’s baseless claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, to those that have led party leaders to call her out, such as her 2019 declaration that sexual assault victims are “naive and unprepared.”