Does Virginia's new chief justice signal a step forward?

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We’d like to kick off this edition of the Odd Dominion by offering our most sincere congratulations to Justice Cynthia Dinah Fannon Kinser, who was recently elected to serve as chief justice of the Virginia Supreme Court. This marks the first time a woman has held the post, and follows the equally historic tenure of Justice Leroy Rountree Hassell, the commonwealth’s first African-American chief justice.

Upon hearing the news, we couldn’t help but recall that it was this time last year when aspiring Governor Bob McDonnell’s grad school thesis—in which he lamented the “dynamic new trend of working women and feminists that is ultimately detrimental to the family”—was unearthed by the Washington Post.

So now that McDonnell is firmly entrenched in the governor’s chair, has his once-retrograde philosophy manifested itself? Well, it’s early yet, but a couple of things are clear. On workplace issues, it seems that McDonnell’s campaign-era repudiation of his anti-working-women stance was sincere. He’s made a number of high-profile female appointments within his administration (four of his 15 cabinet members are women), and has even appointed a board to help increase state purchases from minority- and women-owned businesses.
But on other, less tangible issues, McDonnell’s philosophy seems a bit less progressive. The two most recent examples of his ideology-over-equality attitude involve the hottest of hot-button issues: abortion and teen sex.

Now, both McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli are long-time abortion opponents, so it wasn’t too surprising when the Cooch issued a legal opinion claiming that the commonwealth could regulate clinics that provide first-trimester abortions as if they were hospitals. The extra requirements imposed by this change, of course, could force a vast majority of Virginia’s abortion clinics out of business, thereby greatly restricting many women’s access not only to abortion, but to an entire array of important health services.
So it was even more egregious when, less than a week later, McDonnell rejected a free federal grant that would help fund comprehensive sex education in Virginia’s schools, and applied instead for abstinence-only education funds which need to be matched by the state. Not only does this latter option cost more, it all but assures higher rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease, just as Cuccinelli is working to shut down women’s health clinics across the commonwealth.

Finally, in a tragic counterpoint to the triumph of Justice Kinser, we come to the sad story of Teresa Lewis, a mentally handicapped Fluvanna County woman who is about to become the first female Virginian to be executed in nearly a century. Despite an impassioned plea by her prison chaplain, who has raised real questions about the case (and the fact that the institution where Lewis resides, the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women, was recently criticized in a Justice Department report for its high rate of sexual misconduct), there seems little or no chance that Governor McDonnell will revisit the case.

Then again, there is one high-ranking member of the McDonnell administration who has often questioned the use of the death penalty, emphatically declaring “I just believe we have to be absolutely sure before we authorize the state to take a life.” Who was that guy again?
Oh yeah, that’s right—it was Ken Cuccinelli. I’m sure he’ll be speaking out on this issue any second now.

 

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