In Defense of Mark Herring

Editorials from editors at the Richmond Times Dispatch are, as anyone who has followed politics and culture in Virginia for very long knows, a shadow of what they once were. Gone are the days of intellectual rigor and depth. Instead, logic and fact have been replaced with a pseudo-intellectual sarcasm that is more fitting of Facebook than a once respected newspaper. In its recent opinion piece defending Attorney General Mark Herring’s legal opinion that diluted Virginia’s mandatory reporting of child statutory rape laws is a case in point.  The editors of the RTD either chose to ignore the fact that the AG reversed previous legal opinions, or they are completely ignorant of the facts surrounding the law. Seeing that the same editorialists have bent over backward to defend the abortion industry against basic health and safety standards, and that the newspaper simply refuses to report about the 400 plus health and safety violations found in just over two years of inspections, it’s not surprising that they now come to the aide of the industry and one of its primary defenders, the Attorney General:

They argue in their editorial:

In a September letter to state Health Commissioner Marissa Levine, Herring cites chapter and verse from the Code of Virginia. 

They add:

Indeed, Republicans have been complaining (with some justification) that since taking office Herring has behaved like an activist. Now they are complaining that he is not being activist enough. That might be politics as usual — but it’s awfully poor policy.

If only it were that simple. Anyone familiar with the law and Attorney General opinions realizes that “chapter and verse” often need interpretation; something that had already been done by two previous Attorneys General regarding this particular “chapter and verse”. To come to the conclusion he did, Mark Herring had to reverse those two opinions. First was a 2003 opinion issued by then Attorney General Jerry Kilgore that required health care officials to report statutory rape when the victim reveals it during conversation. More concerning, the second was a 2001 opinion by then Attorney General and now respected Court of Appeals Judge Randolph Beales requiring teachers to report sexual acts against a child regardless of who the teacher suspected committed the sex crime.

These opinions were never questioned or challenged over the last fourteen years. The General Assembly did not enact laws to reverse the opinions. Law enforcement and the courts acted in accordance with those opinions. The opinions were settled law in Virginia, until Mark Herring was asked if abortion center personnel or department of health inspectors had to report possible cases of abuse. Suddenly, he reversed those opinions and concluded that the nurses or doctors in these facilities can ignore the signs of statutory rape.

In other words, Mark Herring had to be exactly what the RTD editorials claim he isn’t in this case – activist.