Editorial: The decision
The Supreme Court of Virginia, deciding on Friday in favor of the so-called "Gloucester 40" as it threw out sanctions imposed by a circuit court judge, gave the First Amendment a big win.
The high court did not reverse the ruling on explicit First Amendment grounds; rather it said the Commonwealth of Virginia, not the 40 people who organized petitions and obtained 6,000 signatures in a failed effort to remove four supervisors in 2008, was the complaining party.
The court found, in effect, that as the state code allows such removal petitions to proceed, the state becomes the party submitting the petitions, and the petitioners are shielded from penalty … so their guaranteed right to petition is preserved.
Thus, the circuit court judge had targeted the wrong party in sanctioning the petitioners for what he termed their "abuse" of the political system.
As almost everyone who has followed the case believed, the petitions were nothing of the sort. In the view of the organizers and the signers, they reflected the outrage of a large part of the citizenry to actions taken early in the morning of the county board’s organizational meeting in January 2008.
The fallout from that fateful meeting continues, and it will not be completely over until this year’s general election is held. Only then will Gloucester residents be able to express, once and for all, the path they want their supervisors to take in the years ahead.
Legislation enacted by the General Assembly in the session following the sanctions, and now the ruling, guarantee the public’s right to petition, just as the First Amendment promises. The Supreme Court has thawed out a big chill.