RICHMOND (December 31, 2020)—In 2020, Attorney General Mark R. Herring continued his historic work to promote justice, equality, and opportunity for all Virginians. The year saw the advancement or completion of long-held priorities and initiatives, like criminal justice reform, marijuana decriminalization, and elimination of Virginia’s rape kit backlog, as well as successful handling of new challenges like those brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and President Trump’s continued lawlessness.
Below are 20 of 2020’s top achievements by Attorney General Herring and the Office of Attorney General, including a few you might have missed:
1) Eliminated Virginia’s backlog of untested rape kits
In July, AG Herring announced the completion of his project to completely eliminate Virginia’s rape kit backlog. As part of the project, more than 2,600 previously untested kits were tested, resulting in charges against perpetrators, hundreds of “hits” being sent to local law enforcement for investigation, and hundreds more profiles being uploaded into the national DNA database.
2) Sued to get the ERA added to the Constitution
In January, Attorney General Herring filed a landmark civil rights suit to force the Trump Administration to recognize Virginia’s ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment and ensure the ERA is properly added to the U.S. Constitution as the 28th Amendment. The case remains ongoing, even as Republican attorneys general have intervened in the case to block the ERA from being added to the constitution.
3) Won every lawsuit challenging removal of the state-owned Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue in Richmond
Attorney General Herring continued his years-long effort to remove Confederate propaganda from public spaces by winning three lawsuits that sought to block Gov. Northam’s removal of the state-owned Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue in Richmond. In the final and most significant suit, he and his team successfully convinced the judge that the statute was raised against a backdrop of white supremacy and that it is against public policy to keep it up.
4) Fought at the US Supreme Court again to protect Virginians’ healthcare
Attorney General Herring went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court yet again to defend Virginians’ healthcare against cynical attacks by the Trump Administration, Republican attorneys general, and conservative activists. After the Trump Administration abandoned defense of the Affordable Care Act, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues stepped in to defend protections for preexisting conditions, Medicaid expansion, and affordability assistance. He also pressed the Trump administration to expand access to healthcare during the COVID crisis, especially for those who lost their job because of the economic fallout of the pandemic.
5) Got landmark “pattern or practice” legislation passed so the attorney general can investigate and stop unconstitutional policing, along with other criminal justice reform priorities
Attorney General Herring worked with Senator Louise Lucas and Delegate Alfonso Lopez to pass legislation that empowers the Attorney General of Virginia to conduct “pattern and practice” investigations of law enforcement agencies to identify and put a stop to unconstitutional practices, such as patterns of excessive force, illegal searches, biased policing, or other unconstitutional practices. This groundbreaking bill makes Virginia one of the first states in the country to give its attorney general this power. During its special session, the General Assembly also enacted many of Attorney General Herring’s criminal justice and policing reform priorities to reduce brutality and abuses of power by law enforcement, increase transparency, accountability, justice, and equality, and address disparities throughout the criminal justice system from policing to re-entry.
6) Helped lead the effort to decriminalize marijuana and put Virginia on the path to legal, regulated adult use of cannabis
During the 2020 General Assembly Session, Attorney General Herring helped successfully decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, after he become the leader on cannabis reform in Virginia following his call for decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana, action to address past convictions, and a move towards legal and regulated adult use. In his call for cannabis reform, he cited the unnecessary negative impact of a criminal conviction for possession, the expense and social costs of enforcing the current system, and the disparate impact on African Americans and people and communities of color.
7) Defended COVID safety measures and worked to help Virginians weather the crisis
Attorney General Herring successfully defended Virginia’s COVID safety measures more than a dozen times in court, including direct challenges to Virginia’s mask requirement, and an effort to host a potential super-spreader gun show in Northern Virginia. He also secured the first moratorium on utility cutoffs, outlined protections against eviction, and led a national effort to increase the PPE supply and fight price gouging.
8) Won passage of new laws to protect Virginians from hate crimes and white supremacist violence
After enduring years of obstruction under Republican control of the General Assembly, in 2020 the General Assembly passed Attorney General Herring’s package of legislation that will better protect Virginians and vulnerable communities from hate crimes and white supremacist violence. The bills update the Commonwealth’s definition of a hate crime, protect Virginians from violence and intimidation by hate groups and white supremacists, and make it harder for hate groups and white supremacists to threaten, intimidate, or hurt Virginians with firearms.
9) Successfully protected DREAMers, the DACA program, and international students
Attorney General Herring continued his years long defense of Virginia DREAMers by fighting all the way up to and winning in the Supreme Court to preserve the DACA program and allow Virginia DREAMers to continue calling the Commonwealth their home. Since 2014, DREAMers have been eligible for in-state tuition because of a decision by Attorney General Herring. In July, Attorney General Herring filed suit challenging a new rule from the Trump Administration that would have threatened more than 13,000 international students in Virginia with deportation. One day after he filed suit, the Trump Administration backed down and withdrew the rule.
10) Expanded the work of the Hampton Roads Human Trafficking Task Force
Attorney General Herring, whose office coordinates the work of the Hampton Roads Human Trafficking Task Force, expanded the group’s mission to include more Hampton Roads communities, and secured additional funding to continue the Task Force’s important work for another three years.
11) Successfully defended gun violence prevention laws
After fighting for years to help pass commonsense gun violence prevention laws, Attorney General Herring was able to successfully defend Virginia’s new background check law, red-flag law, and the re-instated one-handgun-per-month law against legal challenges by the gun lobby.
12) Sued the Trump Administration to protect the Chesapeake Bay
In conjunction with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and attorneys general of Maryland, Delaware, and Washington, D.C., Attorney General Herring filed an historic lawsuit against the Trump Administration for its failures to protect the Chesapeake Bay.
13) Ensured Virginians could safely cast their ballots even during the COVID pandemic
Attorney General Herring and his team worked for months to ensure Virginians could safely cast their ballots and ensure that their votes counted, whether cast by mail or in person. He negotiated and won court approval of several agreements that made it easier for Virginians to vote, including one that extended the voter registration deadline after a cut cable knocked the system out of service on the final day of registration. He also helped prevent violence and intimidation at the polls with an official opinion and law enforcement training video outlining protections against voter intimidation.
14) Successfully sued the Trump Administration to protect the U.S. Postal Service
In August, Attorney General Herring sued the Trump Administration and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to stop and reverse damaging cuts, equipment removal, and policy changes that undermined Americans’ ability to cast their ballots by mail, receive medication, and send or receive important pieces of mail. A federal judge granted AG Herring’s motion for a preliminary injunction, blocking further sabotage by the Trump Administration.
15) Fought Trump’s efforts to sabotage the census
Attorney General Herring took numerous, extraordinary steps to protect the integrity of the census from President Trump’s politically motivated sabotage, including filing a second lawsuit after the Trump Administration continued its sabotage efforts, even after being told by the U.S. Supreme Court that its meddling was unlawful.
16) Brought charges against a former Loudoun County priest as part of his ongoing investigation into clergy abuse
In March, Attorney General Herring secured indictments against former clergyman Scott Asalone, 63, of Asbury Park, NJ, for one felony count of carnal knowledge of a minor between 13 and 15 years old. Asalone was identified through Attorney General Herring and Virginia State Police’s investigation into clergy abuse in Virginia. Asalone was indicted by the Northern Virginia Multi-Jurisdictional Grand Jury on Thursday, March 12 and is awaiting trial in Loudoun County Circuit Court.
17) Secured felony indictments against Netflix documentary “Tiger King” star Doc Antle
Following an investigation by Attorney General Herring’s animal law unit, Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, the owner of Myrtle Beach Safari, was charged with one felony count of wildlife trafficking, one felony count of conspiracy to wildlife traffic, four misdemeanor counts of conspiracy to violate the Endangered Species Act, and nine misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty.
18) Filed antitrust lawsuits against tech giants Google and Facebook
Attorney General Herring filed suit against Facebook and Google, citing monopoly practices that stifled completion and harmed consumers.
19) Led a national effort at the Supreme Court to prevent President Trump from hiding evidence and impeding investigations
Attorney General Herring and his team wrote the lead amicus brief for a coalition of 16 states in Trump v. Vance at the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court sided with Attorney General Herring and his colleagues, ruling that President Trump was not above the law and he is still subject to criminal enforcement by state authorities.
20) Protected food assistance during the COVID pandemic
Attorney General Herring sued to block an unlawful proposal by the Trump Administration that would have threatened to cutoff food assistance for 700,000 Americans in the middle of the COVID pandemic. A federal judge agreed with Attorney General Herring’s arguments and blocked the Trump Administration’s proposal.
21) Successfully defended Virginia’s ban on uranium mining
After winning in the Supreme Court in 2019, Attorney General Herring again successfully defended Virginians ban on uranium mining, this time in state court in southwest Virginia.