In an unexpected speech shortly before the state Senate adjourned its 2019 session, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax cautioned against “political lynchings without any due process” and said “the truth is on my side” in the sexual assault allegations he faces.

Referencing Virginia’s history of slavery and lynchings of African-Americans, Fairfax told senators from the dais Sunday that Virginia needs to decide what the next 400 years of state history will look like.

“If we go backwards in a rush to judgment, and we allow for political lynchings without any due process, any facts, any evidence being heard, then I think we do a disservice to this very body in which we all serve,” he said.

Fairfax’s comments came two days after House Republican leaders said they plan to hold committee hearings in which two women who have publicly accused him of sexual assault can appear and tell their stories. No senators applauded after Fairfax finished speaking.

Fairfax’s comment about “political lynchings” was reminiscent of a comment by Clarence Thomas in his 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearing. Facing accusations by Anita Hill of sexual harassment, Thomas said he had been subjected to a “high-tech lynching.”

Fairfax is the second African-American official to hold statewide office in Virginia after L. Douglas Wilder, who served as lieutenant governor and governor. Fairfax began to draw increased attention just over three weeks ago when Gov. Ralph Northam became embroiled in a scandal that started with disclosure of a racist photo in his 1984 medical school yearbook. Should Northam resign from office, Fairfax would become governor.

Vanessa Tyson, a California professor, has accused Fairfax of forcing her to perform oral sex in a Boston hotel room in 2004. Meredith Watson has accused Fairfax of raping her while the two were students at Duke University in 2000. Neither has filed criminal charges, but the allegations resulted in calls for Fairfax to resign. Fairfax has said both encounters were consensual.

The lieutenant governor’s comments Sunday came after Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, praised him for his professionalism during a trying time.

“I would have to say that everyone in this body understands the stress that you have been under throughout these weeks,” Norment said in a Senate floor speech.

“I just want to personally thank you for your professionalism and the manner in which you have presided over the Senate during these times that were stressful for you and your family. And we’re most appreciative of your evenhandedness, your genteel manner and the professionalism that you have demonstrated throughout this session, so I thank you, sir.”

Fairfax then thanked the senators, staff and Capitol Police.

“I appreciate every single one of you and I appreciate your words and sentiments very much — the words of encouragement that I have received and my family has received,” Fairfax said. “And I will say this: The reason that I have been able to preside in the way that I have is that God is good, and the truth is on my side. And I am very firm in both of those things. And my faith is unshakable.”

He continued: “I turned 40 last Sunday. And I have lived 40 years accusation free, and there’s a reason for that, and none of this is a coincidence.” (Fairfax has asserted that the public airing of the allegations was tied — and timed — to the possibility that Northam would resign and he would become governor.)

“But we have to decide who we are,” Fairfax said. “And I’m happy to be just one representative example of whether or not we’re going to rise to the better angels of our nature or go back down a very dark political road.”

In referencing the commonwealth’s history of lynchings, Fairfax seemingly called out those who have proclaimed him guilty, saying, “And yet we stand here in a rush to judgment with nothing but accusations and no facts and we decide that we are willing to do the same thing.”

He said the allegations he faces are “much bigger than me ... and should anyone decide that they desire to see a downfall of me or of the constitution or of victims or anyone else, I would just ask that you look and reflect and think about who you are, think about who we are and think about who we want to be.”

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pwilson@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6061

Twitter: @patrickmwilson

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