VA Supreme Court clears the way for the Lee statue on Monument Avenue to be removed

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The Virginia Supreme Court has cleared the way for the removal of the Lee statue on Monument Ave.

The Virginia Supreme Court denied two separate challenges on Thursday from residents trying to keep the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Ave. in Richmond.

Governor Ralph Northam ordered the removal of the statue last summer during the social justice movement that swept the country. The Lee statue is the only state-owned statue on Monument Avenue.

“We have won the case to remove the Robert E. Lee statue from Monument Avenue,” said Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring. “The Supreme Court of Virginia has dissolved all injunctions and the statue may now come down. A big win for a more inclusive Commonwealth!”

After Richmond City officials removed all other confederate statues on Monument Ave, the removal of the Lee statue will leave just one monument on the road - a tribute to tennis legend Authur Ashe.

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Virginia abortion access advocates participate in national rally opposing new restrictions in Texas

Abortion access advocates from Virginia joined a national virtual rally Wednesday to show opposition to the 6-week abortion ban that went into effect in Texas today. Advocates also stressed how they want to keep working to make sure that similar restrictions don’t come to Virginia. The law does not allow abortions to take place once a fetal heartbeat is recognized, typically around the six-week mark. Additionally, the legislation allows private citizens to sue abortion providers that they believe are not following the new law.

“Texas’ S.B. 8 makes it so your abortion is everyone’s business but your own,” Jamie Lockhart, Executive Director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, said. “Abortion is still legal in Virginia, and we will do what we can to help get patients the care they need, no matter what.”

Virginia’s rally participants stressed their worry that legislation like S.B. 8 will spread across the country. “Today, S.B. 8 is in Texas, but we know that it will spread. Here in Virginia, we have done so much work to expand access, but there is still work to do,” Jesse Torrey, Managing Director of Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, said. “We have to work together to ensure reproductive healthcare, including abortion, is accessible to all who need it.”

Virginia Republicans tried to make abortion a key issue in the 2019 state legislative races by filming Democratic Del. Kathy Tran’s presentation of a bill that would have eased some restrictions for abortion in Virginia. Tran said she misspoke when she replied “yes” to a question on whether her bill would allow an abortion while the mother is in labor about to give birth. “I should have said: ‘Clearly, no, because infanticide is not allowed in Virginia, and what would have happened in that moment would be a live birth,’” Tran said during a Washington Post interview in 2019. 

Tran received death threats over the video of the exchange that went viral.  

Governor Ralph Northam then provided the Republicans with more talking points when he continued the conversation around Tran’s bill in an attempt to explain what it really did on a radio show. When describing how Tran’s bill involved third-trimester abortions, Northam said that they are done in cases “where there may be severe deformities. There may be a fetus that’s non viable.” He then continued: “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.”

A Northam spokesperson later said in a 2019interview with Vox that the “governor had ‘absolutely not’ been referring to the euthanasia of infants born after a failed abortion” and that he was talking about a “tragic and extremely rare case in which a woman with a nonviable pregnancy or severe fetal abnormalities went into labor.” 

Later that year, however, the Democrats still flipped enough Republican seats to take the majority in both the House of Delegates and state Senate. 

Now in 2021 with three statewide races and all 100 House seats up for election, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe is trying to tie his Republican opponent Glenn Youngkin to the same abortion views as Texas Republicans. “These draconian measures are exactly what Glenn has in mind when he talks about ‘going on offense’ to ban abortion,” McAuliffe tweeted Wednesday when he shared a news story about the Texas restrictions. “Governors are our last line of defense to protect reproductive rights & I’ll always be a brick wall against attacks like this in Virginia.” 

The Youngkin campaign has been on the defense in this area since a secretly recorded video was released of him saying he cannot win in Virginia by campaigning hard on abortion. 

Filmed during an event earlier this summer, someone in the video asked Youngkin if will “take it to the abortionists.” Youngkin then replied: “I’m going to be really honest with you. The short answer is in this campaign, I can’t. When I’m governor and I have a majority in the House, we can start going on offense. But as a campaign topic, sadly, that, in fact, won’t win my Independent votes that I have to get.”

Youngkin was asked Wednesday after a forum if he agrees with the new law in Texas, but he did not directly answer the question with his response. “I am pro-life as I have said since the beginning of this campaign,” Youngkin said in response, which his campaign provided in an audio recording to Virginia Scope. “I believe in exceptions, in the case of rape, in the case of incest, and in the case when the mother’s life is in jeopardy,” Youngkin continued. “I am most focused on making sure that Terry McAuliffe’s extreme agenda, which promotes abortion all the way through and including birth is not part of Virginia’s future.” 

Advocates stressed during the rally Wednesday that abortions have not always been as accessible in Virginia. “Virginia seems safe now with leaders that support abortion access, but not too long ago, getting an abortion in Virginia was extremely difficult,” said LaTwyla Mathias, Executive Director of Progress Virginia. “People who needed abortion services often had to travel hundreds of miles to get to a clinic that would see them. They would have to take time off work, find childcare for their children and stay overnight in a hotel because not only were ultrasounds a requirement, but then they had to wait 24 hours just because politicians wanted to make accessing abortion a little bit harder.”

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In official opinion, Attorney General Herring says 40-foot gun ban applies to early voting locations

Virginia’s attorney general issued an official opinion Wednesday saying that guns are not allowed within 40 feet of any early voting location. That includes central absentee voter precincts, voter satellite offices, and offices of general registrars that are designated locations for early voting in a locality. 

In his opinion, Attorney General Mark Herring cites the current law for election day polling locations that places a ban on the possession of a firearm within 40 feet of any building, “or part thereof,” used as a polling place. He then writes that this restriction should also apply to absentee and early voting locations the “same way that firearms are prohibited at polling places when the polls are open on Election Day.”

Herring clarified that this opinion does not mean entire buildings, but a 40-foot boundary from the specific voting location. “Further, it is my opinion that the prohibitions do not apply to the entire building that houses a polling place, but rather to the 40-foot boundary around the discrete portion of that building that is used as the polling place,” he wrote in the opinion. 

A new law passed earlier this year placed the 40-foot boundary around polling locations on election day.

“No Virginian should ever feel unsafe when they are voting whether they are voting in person on Election Day or whether they are voting in person early,” Herring said in a press release Wednesday. “Last year, I made it a top priority to ensure safe, secure voting across the Commonwealth, and I intend to do the same during this year’s election cycle.”

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LWV-VA files amicus brief in prison-redistricting lawsuit

The League of Women Voters of Virginia, in partnership with American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights Project (ACLU), ACLU Virginia, and the National Black Nonpartisan Redistricting Organization, filed an amicus brief in Adkins v. Virginia Redistricting Commission, supporting counting incarcerated individuals where they are from and not where they are incarcerated. 

The new law is facing a lawsuit from a list of several individuals that includes state Senator Travis Hackworth R-Tazewell. The goal of the lawsuit is to stop the process of using incarcerated individuals’ last known address for redistricting.

Previous redistricting processes have counted the prison address for individuals to draw legislative lines, but the General Assembly passed legislation last year to change that.

The lawsuit states that the decision to count prisoners at their home address was made by legislators and not a constitutional amendment process or referendum vote. 

Experts have called the lawsuit a “longshot.”  

LWV-Virginia filed the brief to provide their perspective and voice their support of the new law.

“The anti-prison gerrymandering law should be used by the redistricting commission and does not violate Virginia’s constitution,” said Deb Wake, President of the LWV of Virginia. “Incarcerated people should be counted at their last home address, not in the communities where they are incarcerated. Otherwise, the political power of their communities is limited.”  

The Redistricting Commission that was approved by a state referendum in 2020 is currently working through the new census data and is expected to complete the map drawing for presentation to the General Assembly in mid-October, just a few weeks before all 100 House seats are up for election. 

The Virginia Public Access Project has a graphic that displays which localities stand to lose or gain in population after incarcerated individuals are redistricted to their home addresses. 

Advocates for the law say that this law will stop the dilution of Black and brown communities. “Incarcerated people should be counted where they have voting power,” said Virginia Kase Solomón, CEO of the League of Women Voters of the US. “Black and brown individuals are disproportionately represented in our prisons — not counting them in their communities dilutes the overall voting power of those incarcerated in a facility outside of their home state. Virginia’s redistricting commission must be allowed to exercise the anti-prison gerrymandering law when drawing Virginia’s maps.” 

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This is a daily newsletter covering Virginia politics from top to bottom. Please consider supporting non-partisan, independent news by becoming a paid subscriber today.