Suddenly forced to determine the fates of their two top leaders, Virginians have become a laboratory experiment in how to weigh difficult-to-prove charges against public figures.

After the discovery of a racist photo on Gov. Ralph Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook page, calls rightly rose for the governor’s resignation. A man who grinned in blackface or from inside a Klansman’s hood seemed incapable of leading a diverse state with a fraught racial history. Then Northam gave contradictory statements over whether it was him in the photo.

Then a story emerged that Justin Fairfax, the lieutenant governor who would become governor if Northam resigned, stands accused of a sexual assault 15 years ago.

A woman says he forced her to perform oral sex. He claims a consensual encounter.

The truth in both cases matters; good luck to all seeking to find it. But it may not in the end be knowable. We say this: If a racist photo is disqualifying, so is a sexual assault.


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