Four Legal Battles That May Cost Cuccinelli The Virginia Governorship

Republican gubernatorial candidate Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli answers questions after a political science class at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va. Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013. (AP Photo/Steve Helb... Republican gubernatorial candidate Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli answers questions after a political science class at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va. Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) MORE LESS
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As Election Day in the Virginia gubernatorial election nears, new polling increasingly shows Democrat Terry McAuliffe has a significant lead over Republican opponent Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in the race.

Though the reasons for Cuccinelli’s flagging campaign are complex, one of the stalking horses may well be his very record as attorney general. He’s known for using his position to aggressively pursue the pet issues of social conservatives. McAuliffe’s campaign began using his socially conservative record as attorney general against him, especially as those cases are beginning to fall apart in court.

Here are four legal battles that are coming back to haunt Cuccinelli.

Abortion Clinic Regulations

On Wednesday, a Virginia judge ruled that a lawsuit, brought by the Falls Church Healthcare Center over Virginia’s strict new abortion clinic regulations, could go forward. The laws (often referred to as Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, or TRAP, laws) require clinics to meet some of the same standards as some hospitals. Though the bill was signed into law by current Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), Cuccinelli was instrumental in its strict implementation.

After the law was enacted on July 1, 2010, the Virginia Board of Health had 280 days to write regulations to meet the law’s new standards. But Cuccinelli refused to accept the board’s initial draft, passed by a 7-4 vote, taking issue with the fact that they exempted existing clinics from the new regulations. Cuccinelli sent the regulations back to the board, threatening to refuse to represent members of the board from any future lawsuits regarding the regulations, which would place the legal financial burden on the individual board members if they were sued by pro-life groups.

The board then reversed its vote and eliminated provisions for existing abortion clinics in an 13-2 vote, and outgoing board member Jim Edmondson blasted Cuccinelli’s handling of the case, saying “One doesn’t protect health by curtailing access to care … But movement from apolitical to political follows the path this Board has had to take. My hope is that a change in the leadership of the Commonwealth will bring moderation to the regulation of this one major aspect of public health and keep women’s health clinics open.”

The case is unlikely to help Cuccinelli with women voters, where he has a double-digit deficit. McAuliffe’s campaign has aggressively sought to portray the attorney general as “anti-woman.” The lawsuit is likely to only aid that depiction.

Anti-Sodomy Law

On Monday, the United States Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of a lower court ruling on Virginia’s anti-sodomy law. Cuccinelli’s office claimed that its pursuit of the case was about “using current law to protect a 17 year-old girl from a 47 year-old sexual predator,” but they failed to mention that as a state legislator, he had opposed efforts in 2004 to reform the state’s Crimes Against Nature law to only apply to “public sex, sex with minors, and prostitution.”

When when the case was taken up in court, the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the law was unconstitutional, citing the Supreme Court’s Lawrence v. Texas decision.

The ruling reminded voters of his previous anti-LGBT polices, including arguing that colleges and universities in the state didn’t have the legal authority to enact anti-discrimination policies for LGBT students. This is particularly bad timing for Cuccinelli since a July poll found that a majority of Virginians support same-sex marriage.

Voter Suppression

Last week, Virginia’s Democratic Party filed a legal complaint against the Virginia state elections board, arguing that Cuccinelli and McDonnell have wrongfully purged as many 50,000 registered voters from state rolls prior in advance of the November gubernatorial election.

Democrats argued that was a tacit effort to give Cuccinelli an upper hand in the race. The Cuccinelli campaign called the Democrats lawsuit a “politically motivated stunt.”

Climate Change

Though climate change and the environment have flown a bit under the radar in the gubernatorial campaign, Cuccinelli is also on the defensive on these issues. He has been haunted by an investigation over a climate scientist at the University of Virginia.

Cuccinelli, who has previously been on the record as skeptical of climate change, began investigating the scientist, Michael Mann, in 2010 over whether Mann committed fraud in getting government funds to research climate change. McAullife’s campaign has also campaigned against Cuccinelli on this. The campaign released an attack ad titled “Witch Hunt” that says Cuccinelli used taxpayer funds to conduct the investigation.

The McAuliffe campaign is using the investigation to paint Cuccinelli as a partisan bully and eccentric climate denier. The investigation has also allowed McAuliffe to spend time bashing his opponent rather than specifying his own position on the environment and climate change, according to The Washington Post.

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