If Justin Fairfax Is Forced Out in Virginia, Who’s Next in Line? – The New York Times

“Things look rather dim for him,” said Larry J. Sabato, the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. But he cautioned against speculation in the midst of a political storm.

“Remember,” he said, “a week ago, we thought the lights were out for Northam.”

There is no clear succession plan should Mr. Fairfax leave office, and because of conflicting laws and interpretations, a political fight could explode over how to replace him.

The Virginia Constitution says that when there is no explicit provision for how to fill a vacancy, the governor appoints a replacement to serve until the next regularly scheduled election. “It’s the catchall clause,” said Dr. Dinan.

Separately, a Virginia law says that if the lieutenant governor’s office is vacant, the president pro tempore of the State Senate would “discharge the duties of the office,” Dr. Dinan said. But the Constitution makes a point to say that is not the same thing as filling a vacancy, he said. The president pro tempore “is just discharging the duties temporarily,” he said.

In 1982, the attorney general’s office weighed in on the conflict in a ruling that said “the governor has the discretionary power to fill a vacancy in the office of lieutenant governor.”

Senior Virginia Democrats are making the case that Mr. Northam should appoint State Senator Jennifer McClellan to replace Mr. Fairfax. Ms. McClellan, who is black, is a longtime Richmond legislator who has a close relationship with United States Senator Tim Kaine.

But political opponents of Mr. Northam are likely to balk at allowing him to choose the next lieutenant governor, at a time when he is under a cloud of mistrust.


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