Former federal prosecutor John Adams is locked in a tight race to unseat Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, promising to reject Herring’s transforming his office into a political actor, and restoring the office to one that faithfully enforces and defends the commonwealth’s laws.
Adams and Herring offer Virginians a striking contrast in what the voters would get in their attorney general.
Herring is the Democratic incumbent, a small-town lawyer without any notable legal accomplishments who has served in various local and state political offices for roughly twenty years. He has modeled his tenure as attorney general in the mold of former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, taking an active policymaking role and refusing to defend state laws with which he disagrees.
When Virginia’s legislative districting map was challenged in court as a racial gerrymander, Herring refused to defend the legislature’s map in court. Several members of Congress representing Virginia attempted to intervene to defend it, but the Supreme Court held in Wittman v. Personhuballah that the federal lawmakers lacked standing to step into the shoes of the attorney general. If the commonwealth’s official attorney refused to defend the statute, then a court would enter judgment against Virginia by default.
Nor was this the only time. Although Herring voted as a lawmaker to defend marriage as between a man and woman when both parties supported traditional marriage, once he became attorney general and the LGBT agenda became an article of faith in the Democratic Party, Herring refused to appear in court or file briefs defending the very law he had voted years earlier to adopt.
When President Donald Trump canceled the DACA amnesty for younger illegal aliens, heeding the advice of his lawyers and of the courts that had ruled on a related matter that only Congress—not the president—can grant immigration amnesty, Herring aligned with the most liberal Democratic state attorneys general in the nation to sue President Trump, asking for a court order to compel him to continue DACA without congressional action.
Adams stands in stark contrast to Herring. An officer in the U.S. Navy who later graduated from the elite University of Virginia School of Law, Adams later served as a law clerk to Judge David Sentelle on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, then to Justice Clarence Thomas on the U.S. Supreme Court. Afterward, he served as associate White House counsel, then as a federal prosecutor.
Adams is campaigning on restoring the attorney general as a nonpolitical office, as the chief law enforcement officer of the Old Dominion who will vigorously enforce the laws of Virginia. His position is that if the people of Virginia want to change their laws, they must do so through the ballot box and their elected lawmakers, but that an attorney general’s sworn duty is to defend those laws when challenged in court, even if the attorney general personally disagrees with the law. He is running on vigorously fighting violent crime and gang violence, combatting drug abuse and the opioid crisis, and safeguarding individual rights against government abuse.
Adams is an unapologetic constitutional conservative in the mold of Justice Thomas. Like most Supreme Court law clerks (an honor that only one lawyer in 1,000 ever receives), he is well-respected as a brilliant legal mind who can quickly dive deeply into complex constitutional issues, including state sovereignty, criminal law, free speech, religious liberty, and the Second Amendment.
Virginians are divided over what sort of attorney general they want. The Old Dominion has trended more liberal in recent years with the massive growth of the federal government pouring into northern Virginia. But the incumbent Herring is clearly vulnerable. Polls in the past couple days show the two candidates neck-and-neck, with one suggesting that Adams has a slight lead.
Virginians vote for attorney general on November 7.
Ken Klukowski is senior legal editor for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.