A little-known Virginia law that dictates how the state’s delegates must vote at presidential nominating conventions could be struck down by a federal judge next week. After roughly six hours of oral argument Thursday, U.S. District Judge Robert E. Payne seemed poised to issue a narrow opinion in a case brought by a Virginia delegate to the Republican National Convention seeking legal immunity for his plan to vote against Donald Trump. Payne seemed to accept one element of the argument brought by Carroll “Beau” Correll, a Winchester attorney who supported Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas in the primary. In a lawsuit filed last month, Correll said the state cannot enforce an election law that could, in theory, lead to criminal prosecutions for delegates who don’t cast their vote for Trump on the first ballot despite their obligations under party rules.
“Is he entitled to get a criminal penalty for making that decision, or is that a party matter to drub him out of the party?” Payne said during the hearing, where he repeatedly questioned how the state could enforce a law that seems to dictate the affairs of a political party.
Lawyers representing the state on behalf of Attorney General Mark R. Herring said no one has ever been prosecuted for violating the delegate law, adding that the state has no intention of bringing a case against Correll.
Correll’s lawsuit ties in with the long-shot effort by anti-Trump Republicans to organize enough rogue delegates to deny him the nomination when the convention convenes in Cleveland on July 18. Because of Trump’s first-place finish in Virginia, he’s in line to receive 17 of the state’s 49 delegate votes on the first ballot, with the rest divided proportionately among candidates who have dropped out. All Virginia delegates are unbound if voting goes to multiple rounds.