Virginia Counties Fight Northam’s Shutdown Orders as COVID Cases Surge

By Brian Carlton, Ashley Spinks Dugan

November 25, 2020

Three counties consider a resolution “banning” any enforcement of the state’s COVID-19 restrictions.

BEDFORD-Virginia set a record Monday, with 3,242 new COVID-19 cases reported. That’s the highest daily number since the pandemic started in March. On the same day as some residents called for another lockdown, however, others in Bedford County demanded that all restrictions be lifted. 

On Monday, Bedford County’s board of supervisors became the latest group to discuss a resolution circulating around southern Virginia. Or rather, they heard from local residents about it. Supervisors actually rejected putting the resolution on their agenda, due to its current wording. It’s the same reason Appomattox County officials declined to adopt it last week. It’s not that Bedford officials disagreed with it. But, as Bedford Board of Supervisors Chairman John Sharp pointed out, they actually didn’t have the authority to do some of the things requested in the document. 

“I understand you’re all patriots and you want to see us do something, because you’re sick and tired of Nanny Northam trying to shove something down our throat,” Sharp told the more than 70 people assembled at Monday’s meeting. “I can assure you that this board stands with you right there. We certainly believe that the governor is way outside of his bounds on the first amendment. We don’t live in a nanny state and it is not the role of government to protect us from ourselves. However, to demand this board to take an illegal action would make us no better than the governor.” 

What Does The Resolution Say? 

Created by Lynchburg resident and former House of Delegates candidate Isaiah Knight, the “Nullify Northam” resolution asks counties to do a number of things. First, it asks officials to stop any public funds from being used to restrict First Amendment rights. Second, it asks them to refuse federal or state agencies when they ask for help in restricting those rights. It also asks supervisors not to “authorize or appropriate government funds, resources, employees, agencies, contractors, buildings, detention centers, or offices for the purpose of enforcing laws that unconstitutionally infringe on any of the people’s constitutional rights.” 

Finally, the resolution asks local lawmakers to oppose any infringement on those rights “using such legal means as may be expedient, including, without limitation, court action.” Bedford supervisors had concerns over the part mentioning directing “the law enforcement and employees of Bedford County to not enforce any unconstitutional law and to arrest and detain any state official or agent who attempts to do so.” 

As Sharp pointed out Monday night, the resolution asks supervisors to go beyond what they’re allowed to do. The sheriff and commonwealth’s attorney Sharp pointed out, don’t report to supervisors. 

“The reality is they don’t fall under our chain of command,” Sharp said. “Those are constitutional officers. We have absolutely no authority over the sheriff’s department nor the commonwealth’s attorney. We can’t demand anything of constitutional officers.”  

Dogwood reached out to University of Virginia law professor Rich Schragger, who went into more detail. 

“Local officials that refuse to enforce state mask mandates or that actively interfere with the enforcement of state mask mandates would be acting illegally,” Schragger said. “There is no legal authority that permits local officials to arrest other officials for enforcing state law.” 

Once the resolution is reworded, with that part removed, Sharp said the board would be willing to hear it. 

What Is This About?

Knight spoke Monday during the public comments section of the meeting, saying he would be glad to rework the resolution. He argued it was needed. 

“Unless we start acting, the tyrant in Richmond will continue to commit treason,” Knight told the supervisors. “Northam and the Richmond radicals are counting on your fear, because fear is contagious. Fear is a tool of the left to incrementally remove our rights under a false sense of security.”

The argument here surrounds Northam’s latest executive order involving the pandemic. Earlier this month, he put in place a series of curfews and restrictions. The order restricts in-person gatherings to 25 people, down from the previous 250. Also, all Virginia residents age 5 and older are required to wear a mask when out in public. 

Third, all essential retail businesses like groceries and pharmacies, have to enforce the mask order. Anyone caught not wearing a mask inside one of these stores will face a Class One misdemeanor. Finally, Northam installed a series of curfews. All restaurants, food courts, breweries, microbreweries, distilleries, wineries and tasting rooms have to close by midnight each day. They also have to stop selling alcohol by 10 p.m.  

The residents who spoke up Monday argued the state violated their First Amendment rights with these rules. Specifically, the right to peaceably assemble. 

“Shutting down did not work the first time and it won’t work now,” wrote Duane Zimmerman in an email to the supervisors. He was one of more than 20 people that sent in comments, either for or against the resolution. “The financial and social impacts to our community and our citizens caused by Northam’s mandates will be far more dangerous on a longer timeline.” 

Next the resolution goes to Campbell County, where supervisors said they’ll discuss it Dec. 1.

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