Ripples of effects continue from Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s March 4 letter, which requested Virginia public universities and colleges ban certain anti-discrimination policies, and the impacts for VCU and other state institutions are far from over.
VCU responded to Cuccinelli’s letter with forums for students, faculty and staff to discuss the remarks and more than 1,000 participated in a rally against potential changes to the university’s discrimination policy. The rally was even followed by a student-led march to the Capitol.
Gov. Bob McDonnell issued an executive directive prohibiting employee discrimination for state agencies the day of the March 10 rally. VCU President Michael Rao sent an e-mail to the VCU and VCU Health System stating the directive reinforced the current anti-discrimination policy.
Community and university actions prompted another round of responses from Cuccinelli.
The Washington Post published statements from Cuccinelli in a March 13 article where he stood by his letter:
“What I said in my March 4 letter was accurate advice under Virginia law, and it still stands,” Cuccinelli said in brief comments to reporters after addressing lawmakers on an unrelated issue.
The Washington Post article stated Cuccinelli said universities “don’t have any more authority than the General Assembly gives them, which is a similar position as the localities. And until the General Assembly gives them more authority, they’re quarantined by what they’ve got.”
According to the article, Cuccinelli said he does not disagree with “one of the McDonnell directive’s central legal conclusions: that discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation violates the U.S. Constitution, which courts have found protects individuals against irrational bias.”
The article stated Cuccinelli said “he was not surprised that there was reaction from college students to the sensitive and emotional issue.”
After the March 13 article, the Richmond Times-Dispatch published a letter to the editor written by Cuccinelli on March 14.
Cuccinelli addressed his initial remarks over nondiscrimination policies. He stated he believed “that government should not single out anyone for negative treatment.”
However, Cuccinelli stated it is up to the General Assembly and not the Board of Visitors to decide which groups can be deemed “a specially protected class,” in regards to nondiscrimination polices.
“A public university simply lacks the power to create a new specially protected class under Virginia law,” Cuccinelli stated.
Cuccinelli stated “the General Assembly has considered and defined the protected classes for purposes of nondiscrimination statutes. It has specifically defined unlawful discrimination at educational institutions.”
The Virginia Human Rights Act states that it is the policy of the commonwealth to “safeguard all individuals within the Commonwealth from unlawful discrimination because of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, age, marital status, or disability, in places of public accommodation, including educational institutions,” according to Cuccinelli.
The General Assembly has “considered and rejected creating a protected class defined by sexual orientation. No state agency can reach beyond such clearly established boundaries,” Cuccinelli stated.