Justin Fairfax, the lieutenant governor of Virginia, is a former federal prosecutor who took the oath of office with the freedom papers of his ancestor, who was a Virginia slave, in his pocket.
He is a 39-year-old Democrat who is a supporter of the Affordable Care Act, prison reform, tighter gun control, campaign donation limits, and increased taxes for infrastructure. He was endorsed by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, which called him one of several “stalwart proponents of access to women’s health” who “has taken bold actions in support of Planned Parenthood.”
Fairfax would become governor if current Virginia Governor Ralph Northam heeded calls from some to resign. However, the situation took a new twist when an old sexual assault accusation against Fairfax emerged. You can read more about the accuser here. Fairfax denied it:
However, by February 8, 2019, a second woman had accused Justin Fairfax of raping her when he was a Duke University student – an accusation he also denied – and there were calls for his own resignation. You can read about the second accuser here.
Northam is embroiled in controversy after initially admitting – and then denying – that he was one of the men featured in a racist yearbook picture from 1984. Fairfax would become Virginia’s second black governor in Virginia history. However, Northam now says he won’t resign. “I believe now and then that I am not either of the people in this photo,” Northam said. “This was not me in that picture. That was not Ralph Northam.” He said, though, that he once appeared as Michael Jackson in a dance contest and darkened his face for it.
“Earlier today, a website published a photograph of me from my 1984 medical school yearbook in a costume that is clearly racist and offensive,” Gov. Northam’s earlier statement said. You can read the governor’s full previous statement here. That has all eyes on Justin Fairfax.
Fairfax released this statement:
“When voters hear ‘Justin Fairfax,’ I want them to think economic opportunity. I want them to think of them rising,” Fairfax told WAVY-TV in 2017. In his top Facebook post because the photo controversy erupted, Fairfax defended Northam and Virginia Delegate Kathy Tran against criticism over their abortion comments.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Fairfax Is the Descendant of a Freed Virginia Slave Named Simon Fairfax
In a tweet on January 18, 2019, Fairfax revealed, “History repeats itself. I will be stepping off the dais today in protest of the Virginia Senate honoring Robert E. Lee. I’ll be thinking of this June 5, 1798 manumission document that freed my great-great-great grandfather Simon Fairfax from slavery in Virginia. #WeRiseTogether.” According to The Root, the Virginia State Senate has traditionally honored Lee and Stonewall Jackson near their birthdays.
Fairfax “literally took his oath of office with his three-greats-ago grandfather’s Freedom papers in his pocket,” The Root reported. Fairfax talked about that moment with NBC12. He told the television station that his father gave him the papers right before he took the oath of office.
“It was the manumission papers for my three-greats-ago grandfather Simon Fairfax in 1798, and he was freed by the Ninth Lord Fairfax,” Fairfax said to the station. “And so, as I raised my right hand to take the oath of office as lieutenant governor of Virginia, I had in my breast pocket the papers that freed my three-greats-ago grandfather.”
At a black history event in 2018, he explained, “And it wasn’t about me. It wasn’t even about my family. It wasn’t even in some ways about Virginia. It was about the journey we’re taking as human beings, and the fact that we now have a chance to right so many wrongs in history.”
2. Fairfax, who Grew Up in Washington D.C., Is Only the Second African-American Elected to Statewide Office in Virginia – Ever
Justin Fairfax was elected lieutenant governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia on November 7, 2017. “Justin is only the second African-American in history, and the first in nearly 30 years since the tenure of Governor L. Douglas Wilder, to be elected to statewide office in Virginia. His Inauguration took place on January 13, 2018,” his website says.
“You know, it’s a really powerful thing, in a lot of ways,” Fairfax said to NBC12. “I think it represents the progress we as Virginians have been able to make.”
During his campaign for lieutenant governor, he supported a $15 minimum wage and reduced student loan interest rates. He also advocated criminal justice reform, telling WAVY, “So criminal justice reform is something I’m very passionate about. Virginia is number one in what’s known as the school to prison pipeline and so we want to change that.”
Fredericksburg.com reported, “Fairfax supports universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons.”
You can listen to his victory speech on election night here. You can read a detailed candidate questionnaire that he filled out here. It addresses his stances on the issues in great detail. He defeated Republican Jill Holtzman Vogel in the election. You can find some of his ratings and endorsements here.
For example, he wrote, “I will fight to prevent the proposed devastating cuts to Medicaid and to expand Medicaid in Virginia under the Affordable Care Act.” He also wrote, “The school-to-prison pipeline is one of the moral issues of our time and a centerpiece of my campaign.”
He said during a debate that the Republicans’ vision “is one based on divisive partisanship, personal attacks on political opponents, dragging our political process down into the mud.” According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “Fairfax said he would be willing to consider requiring insurance for gun ownership, wants universal background checks and a return to Virginia’s one-handgun-a-month law.” He criticized his opponent for not raising taxes to pay for transportation improvements and for supporting mandatory ultrasounds for women who wanted to have abortions, the newspaper reported.
On his campaign website, he sketched out his biography. Her parents were divorced, so his mother and three older siblings moved into their grandparents’ home in Washington D.C.’s inner city, it says, adding that his mother saved money to buy her own home across the street.
“The neighborhood had transformed from a close-knit middle-class community to one ravaged by a growing drug epidemic, increasing violence, and dwindling economic opportunities, so Justin learned early on how fragile the future can be, watching the lives of many friends and neighbors unravel in the face of unexpected challenges because they didn’t have the same strong network of support,” the website says, adding that his mother managed to put all four of her children through college.
His Facebook page says he is an alum of Dematha Catholic High School.
3. Justin Fairfax Worked as a Federal Prosecutor
Justin Fairfax is an attorney. He was previously an assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, where he served in the Major Crimes and Narcotics Unit in Alexandria.
According to his website, at the age of 34, Fairfax “was awarded the National Bar Association’s ‘Nation’s Best Advocates Award,’ which recognizes 40 top attorneys nationwide under the age of 40.” He also worked in private practice for the law firms Morrison & Foerster LLP and WilmerHale, LLP.
During the campaign for lieutenant governor, he was criticized for some of his private legal work. “Fairfax’s clients have included a student loan company that settled in a case in which it was accused of improperly claiming taxpayer subsidies; a food vendor that also settled a case in which it was accused of overcharging D.C. taxpayers; and a fraud case involving defendants, including a Florida congresswoman, accused of misusing scholarship funds raised for underprivileged students,” reported Fredericksburg.com.
While a federal prosecutor, he worked on human trafficking issues as Deputy Coordinator of the Northern Virginia Human Trafficking Task Force. He also served as a federal law clerk for United States District Court Judge Gerald Bruce Lee in the Eastern District of Virginia, says his website.
As a prosecutor, he handled “a wide range of federal felony criminal offenses, including embezzlement, fraud, narcotics trafficking, international currency and narcotics smuggling, gun crimes, and illegal immigration,” his Morrison & Foerster bio says.
4. Fairfax’s Wife Has a Dentistry Degree & Runs a Family Dental Practice
Justin Fairfax frequently posts photos with his wife and children on social media. His website says that his wife is named Dr. Cerina W. Fairfax, DDS, and she “is a graduate of the VCU School of Dentistry in Richmond, VA and of Duke University.”
The couple has two children – a son, Cameron, and a daughter, Carys. Cerina Fairfax runs a family dental practice, the website says.
Cerina Fairfax’s dental practice website bio reads, “Dr. Fairfax earned her Bachelor of Science degree from Duke University in 1999. She then went on to obtain her Doctorate of Dental Surgery, graduating Magna Cum Laude from VCU’s Medical College of Virginia School of Dentistry in 2005 and was inducted as a member of Omicron Kappa Upsilon, a dental honor society. She went on to complete a one-year residency program in Advanced Education in General Dentistry also at MCV. Dr. Fairfax enjoys all fields of dentistry. She has completed hundreds of hours of continuing education focusing on conservative, comprehensive dentistry.”
5. Fairfax Graduated From Columbia Law School
Fairfax has degrees from prestigious universities, graduating from Columbia Law School in 2005, and from Duke University in 2000, where he majored in Public Policy Studies, according to his website.
His law firm bio says that he has served as Chair of the Democratic Lieutenant Governors Association (DLGA) and on the Executive Committee of the National Lieutenant Governors Association (NLGA). He previously ran unsuccessfully for state Attorney General.
As for Northam, the Virginia GOP called for him resign, but some top Democrats and Democratic organizations soon joined suit. U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, a 2020 presidential candidate, wrote, “Leaders are called to a higher standard, and the stain of racism should have no place in the halls of government. The Governor of Virginia should step aside so the public can heal and move forward together.” According to Politico, Northam caused controversy during the campaign by not including Fairfax on mailers “handed out by a union that had declined to endorse Fairfax.”
He most recently defended Northam after the governor was criticized for his comments on abortion.
In the earlier abortion controversy, Northam came under fire for saying, “If a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen. The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.” The governor defended himself after criticism erupted regarding the abortion comments, saying, “I have devoted my life to caring for children and any insinuation otherwise is shameful and disgusting.”