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State Senate defeats measure aimed at attorney general

(AP) The Virginia Senate has narrowly defeated a measure aimed at forcing the state attorney general to defend state laws when they are challenged.

The bill, sponsored by Del. Brenda Pogge, a Republican from James City County, was prompted by Attorney General Mark Herring’s decision last year not to defend Virginia’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. The amendment was ultimately overturned in federal court, and gay couples have been getting married since October.

Herring, a Democrat, determined that the Virginia amendment violated the federal Constitution, angering many Republicans.

Pogge’s bill passed the House 68-32 earlier this month. It was rejected Monday by the Senate when Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, cast a “no” vote to break a 20-20 tie. One Republican, Sen. John Watkins of Powhatan County, also voted “no.”

The measure was an attempt to “require the attorney general or his designee to do his duty,” Sen. Mark Obenshain, a Rockingham County Republican, told the Senate.

But Sen. John Edwards, a Roanoke Democrat, said it is well-established law that the attorney general’s first duty is to defend the federal Constitution. He cited a long list of occasions over the past 35 years when past attorneys general, both Democrats and Republicans, declined to defend state laws on grounds that they were unconstitutional.

Herring “did the right thing,” Edwards said. “He did the courageous thing.”

Michael Kelly, a spokesman for Herring, called Pogge’s bill “just the last ripple of political opposition to the legally correct position Attorney General Herring took on marriage equality.”

“It shows that some in the legislature remain far outside of the legal mainstream and where the majority of Virginians are on marriage equality,” Kelly said.

— BILL SIZEMORE, Associated Press

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