Three African American residents of Virginia filed a lawsuit Friday contending that their constitutional rights were violated by the process recently used to pick a Democratic challenger to convicted Del. Joseph D. Morrissey (I-Henrico). Morrissey was recently found guilty of a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. In a special election Jan. 13, he won decisively against both a Republican and the Democratic Party’s chosen candidate. The lawsuit, filed in federal court, argues that the Democratic Party, in its haste to distance itself from Morrissey, intentionally excluded African American voters from the process of nominating the challenger. African Americans make up about 60 percent of the House of Delegates district in question.
Morrissey, who was elected as a Democrat in previous races, has said he ran as an independent in the special election because he disagreed with the party’s method of nomination — also at issue in the lawsuit.
In addition to the misdemeanor conviction, Morrissey was accused in a felony indictment unsealed last week of submitting forged documents as evidence and lying under oath in the earlier case. He has denied any wrongdoing.
The lawsuit filed Friday adds to the controversy and uncertainty swirling around the decorum-bound General Assembly as it scrambles to find a way to punish or even expel Morrissey without offending the voters who elected him.