Virginia Supreme Court Allows Loudoun County Schools Grand Jury Investigation to Proceed

Attorney General Jason Miyares’ grand jury investigation into the Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) can go forward after the Virginia Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s decision to dismiss a lawsuit from the school board seeking to block the investigation.

In a Friday opinion, the Supreme Court said the only grounds for blocking the injunction would be under a violation of the Virginia Constitution, which grants authority to school boards to oversee schools.

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Virginia School Board Members Support Firing West Point Public Schools Teacher over Pronoun Dispute

Eight school board members from five school divisions filed a brief with the Virginia Supreme Court in support of West Point Public Schools after the district fired a teacher who refused to use a student’s preferred pronouns.

High school French teacher Peter Vlaming lost his job for refusing to use male pronouns to refer to a biologically female student who requested he use male pronouns. The school board claimed his refusal to use male pronouns was transgender discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

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Briefs Filed in Virginia Supreme Court in Case of Teacher Fired for Not Using Preferred Pronouns

The Alliance Defending Freedom has filed its opening brief in the Virginia Supreme Court in the case of Peter Vlaming, a teacher who was fired after he declined to use a student’s preferred pronouns. Seven other organizations filed briefs supporting Vlaming on Tuesday, including the Office of the Attorney General on behalf of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

“Under our Constitution, Virginians have an absolute right not to be forced to publicly disavow their sincerely held religious beliefs—and that applies equally to public-school teachers. Even on pure speech grounds, the government cannot force its employees to falsely express their agreement with controversial messages they don’t believe without identifying a compelling state interest that cannot be achieved through significantly less restrictive means,” the ADF brief states.

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Virginia Supreme Court Grants Appeal in Lawsuit By Teacher Fired for Not Using Preferred Pronouns

The Virginia Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal of a lawsuit from former West Point High School French teacher Peter Vlaming, who was fired from the district in 2018 for not using a student’s preferred pronouns. The Court granted the appeal Thursday, according to announcement from the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

“Peter wasn’t fired for something he said; he was fired for something he couldn’t say,” ADF Senior Counsel Chris Schandevel said in the release. “As a teacher, Peter was passionate about the subject he taught, he was well-liked by his students, and he did his best to accommodate their needs and requests. But Peter could not in good conscience speak messages that he does not believe to be true.”

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Senate Committee Blocks Confirmation of Trump EPA Chief to Serve as Youngkin’s Secretary of Natural Resources; Republicans Planning Consequences

RICHMOND, Virginia – The Senate Privileges and Elections Committee blocked Governor Glenn Youngkin’s nominee for Secretary of Natural Resources, former Trump EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. On Tuesday afternoon, Senator Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) moved to remove Wheeler’s name from a Senate resolution to confirm the nominees.

“We received a letter from 150 former EPA employees, who suggested that Mr. Wheeler had undermined the work of the EPA and worked against the environmental interests in this country. We think that members of the governor’s cabinet ought to be able to unite us as Virginians, and certainly the secretary of natural resources ought to be one that we have confidence in, in terms of working for the preservation and conservation of our natural resources,” Deeds said.

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Amid Legal Doubt over Youngkin Mask Opt-Out Order, Virginia Departments of Health and Education Emphasize Parents, Officials Share Responsibility for COVID-19 Mitigation

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and Department of Education (VDOE) updated their guidelines to reflect Governor Glenn Youngkin’s mask-mandate opt-out order. The new guidance downplays masks and says COVID-19 risk reduction is a shared responsibility between parents and officials.

“These three core principles found in Executive Order 2 reaffirm: 1. Parents are in charge of their children’s health, wellbeing and education, 2. Schools must be open five days a week for in-person learning, and 3. The Commonwealth and school divisions must provide a safe and healthy school environment,” the new guidance states.

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Virginia Supreme Court Approves Final Congressional and Legislative Districts

The Virginia Supreme Court on Tuesday approved the final version of congressional and legislative maps that will enact political boundaries for the next decade.

The process allowed for the judicial branch to determine the districts after the Virginia Redistricting Commission failed to produce any maps.

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Justice S. Bernard Goodwyn Elected as New Chief Justice of Virginia Supreme Court

Justice S. Bernard Goodwyn was elected to be the new chief justice of the Virginia Supreme Court beginning on Jan. 1 after the current chief justice, Donald W. Lemons, announced he would step down.

The justices elected Goodwyn upon the news of Lemons stepping down. The court issued a news release, but did not say why Lemons was leaving. He has served as the chief justice since Jan. 1, 2015 and his term was not set to end until 2024. He is the oldest justice on the court at age 72.

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Virginia Redistricting Map Proposals Draw Fire for Lack of Incumbent Protection, Reducing Minority Representation

The Virginia Supreme Court will approve final redistricting maps for Virginia later this month, after the Virginia Redistricting Commission failed to complete any maps. Draft proposals from the Court’s special masters released maps last week with no consideration for protecting incumbents, which has triggered complaints from both parties.

“Virginia’s first draft Congressional map is a disaster that completely fails to deliver fair representation that reflects the Commonwealth. Virginia voters wanted a bipartisan and transparent process. What they got was two people hastily drafting a map behind closed doors and ignoring public input,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney (D-New York-18) said in a press release.

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Virginia Supreme Court Redistricting Map Drafts Shake Up Incumbents

The Virginia Supreme Court’s Special Masters released their first redistricting map proposals Tuesday, receiving mixed reactions over what will be a major shakeup for Virginia incumbents if final drafts are similar to the proposals.

The Court chose Republican-nominated Sean Trende and Democratic-nominated Bernard Grofman to draw the maps.

“These maps reflect a true joint effort on our part. We agreed on almost all issues initially, and the few issues on which we initially disagreed were resolved by amicable discussion,” the Special Masters wrote in a memo. “[W]e took seriously the Court’s command that, although we were nominated by the political parties, we would behave in ‘an apolitical and nonpartisan manner.’ Our duty is owed not to the parties that nominated us, but rather to the Court that appointed us and to the residents of the Commonwealth that it serves.”

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Charlottesville Will Give Lee Statue to Museum That Plans to Melt It for a New Public Artwork

Charlottesville’s Lee statue will be given to the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center (JSAAHC) to be melted down into bronze ingots and repurposed for the museum’s Swords into Plowshares proposal. In a Monday city council meeting that ran late, councilors voted four to zero to approve the proposal.

The vote happened after discussion focused on the disposition of other removed city statues of Stonewall Jackson and Lewis, Clark, and Sacajawea. Seeking more information, the council decided to postpone decisions until later in the month, but public commenters at the end of the meeting asked the council to make a decision, leading to the final vote on just the Lee statue. Vice Mayor Sena Magill was absent.

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Alliance Defending Freedom Petitions Virginia Supreme Court to Hear Lawsuit over Termination of a Teacher Who Refused to Use Preferred Prounons

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is petitioning the Virginia Supreme Court to hear an appeal of a lawsuit from former West Point High School french teacher Peter Vlaming, who was fired from the district in 2018 for not using a student’s preferred pronouns.

“Virginia’s Constitution protects every Virginian’s ‘free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience,’ and provides that they ‘shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain their opinions in matters of religion, and the same shall in nowise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities,'” states the petition for appeal, filed November 12.

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Virginia Supreme Court Appoints Special Masters for Redistricting

The Virginia Supreme Court has selected Republican nominee Sean Trende and Democratic nominee Bernard Grofman to be the two Special Masters who will work together to draw legislative and congressional map proposals for the court. Due to deep partisan splits, the Virginia Redistricting Commission failed to submit any maps by constitutionally-required deadlines, leaving the task to the Court.

In the order issued Friday, the Court wrote, “Though each was nominated by legislative leaders of a particular political party, the nominees — upon being appointed by this Court as Special Masters — shall serve as officers of the Court in a quasi-judicial capacity. Consequently, the Special Masters shall be neutral and shall not act as advocates or representatives of any political party. By accepting their appointment, the Special Masters warrant that they have no ‘conflicts of interest,’ Code § 30-399(F), that preclude them from prudently exercising independent judgment, dispassionately following the Court’s instructions, or objectively applying the governing decision-making criteria.”

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Partisan Battles Continue as Virginia Supreme Court Prepares for Redistricting

The Virginia Redistricting Commission ended with a whimper two weeks ago, when the commission adjourned without formally ending the process. On Monday, a final deadline to complete congressional maps passed without any updates from the commission. According to the constitutional amendment passed by voters, that sends the process to the Virginia Supreme Court. The Court will vote on special masters who will work together to create redistricting plans for both congressional and legislative maps. Each General Assembly caucus proposed three nominees, and the Court will pick one from each party.

On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw (D-Fairfax) sent a letter to the Court saying that the Republican nominees have “disqualifying conflicts of interest.”

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Virginia Supreme Court Dismisses Petition to Appeal in McAuliffe Signature Lawsuit

The Virginia Supreme Court refused a petition to appeal the dismissal of a lawsuit over the missing signature on Terry McAuliffe’s election paperwork. On Wednesday, attorney Peter Hansen argued in a writ panel that the Court should take up the appeal, saying that McAuliffe failed to file a valid declaration of candidacy, and that when the City of Richmond Circuit Court dismissed the case, it did so based on speculation.

“Unfortunately, the trial court effectually made up facts. There’s nothing in the evidence, nothing in the record that suggested that Mr. McAuliffe was present when he didn’t sign the declaration. There’s nothing in evidence that suggests he raised his hand as if taking an oath, and that’s what ‘sworn to under my hand’ means,” Hansen told the panel.

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Virginia Redistricting Commission Adjourns Indefinitely Without Completing Any Maps

Virginia may have seen the last of its Redistricting Commission. After multiple perfect ties split along party lines on votes held over the past months, the Commission reached consensus on Wednesday to adjourn until the two co-chairs decide to reconvene the commission. The commission’s one remaining  scheduled meeting on Monday and a public hearing for Friday are canceled. The co-chairs said they would reconvene the commission if two commissioners, one from each party, were able to jointly propose a way to redistrict Virginia’s congressional maps.

Co-chair Mackenzie Babichenko (R) said, “That would give us kind of a better basis, so if Senator Barker finds someone that likes something also on the other side they can bring it to the co-chairs attention, and then we can call a meeting for us to all come and consider it. But I think the issue is that if we say that there is some place for consensus and that we can still keep working, but is that going to happen at another meeting just like this?”

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After Legislative Map Failure, Virginia Redistricting Commission Has Airing of Grievances, Thinks About Congressional Maps

Tennessee Capitol building

The Virginia Redistricting Commission hasn’t made a formal decision, but it seems to be moving on after missing a Sunday deadline to complete General Assembly maps. In a virtual meeting Monday, commissioners couldn’t take any votes, but they heard preliminary presentations from the partisan legal teams about redistricting Virginia’s congressional maps. When Co-Chair Mackenzie Babichenko (R) tried to wrap up the meeting with a summary of action items for a meeting later this week, Delegate Les Adams (R-Chatham) questioned Co-Chair Greta Harris (D) status on the commission, launching what Babichencko called an “airing of grievances” from frustrated commissioners.

On Friday, Harris and two other citizen members broke quorum, ending a fraught meeting. At the time, she said, “At this point I don’t feel as though all members on the commission are sincere in their willingness to compromise and to create fair maps for the Commonwealth of Virginia. And so at that point, if I can’t believe that the people I’m supposed to work with are true and sincere, regrettably, I am done. So thank you very much for the opportunity to serve, but I will remove myself from the commission at this point.”

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Poised to Miss First Deadline, Virginia Redistricting Commission Collapses

The Virginia Redistricting Commission collapsed Friday afternoon while facing a Sunday deadline to complete final maps to present to the General Assembly. The commission failed to break through partisan deadlocks on which drafts to use as a starting point, the latest in weeks of perfect party-line splits in the habitually deadlocked commission. In despair, three citizen members walked out of the meeting breaking quorum and leaving questions about the future of the commission.

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Redistricting: Draft Virginia Senate Map Highlights Different Definitions of ‘Fair’

Capitol of the Commonwealth of Virginia

A new working draft of a Virginia Senate redistricting map is highlighting the question of what creating a fair map means. The working map was hammered out on Saturday in a closed-door meeting between the Democratic and Republican co-chairs, Democratic and Republican legal teams, and Democratic and Republican map-drawers.

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Virginia Redistricting Commission Running Out of Time to Complete General Assembly Maps

Capitol of the Commonwealth of Virginia

The Virginia Redistricting Commission is scrambling to find more time to finalize General Assembly draft maps ahead of a series of public hearings on October 4-7. On Monday, the commission saw separate sets of draft maps proposed by the two partisan map-drawing teams. On Thursday, they saw a consensus of four Senate district maps from southwest Virginia where both teams’ proposed districts had more than 90 percent of the population in common. But Thursday’s meeting was largely occupied by debates over when to provide political data to map drawers, and about creating additional instructions about creating districts where minorities can control the vote.

As a result, with just three meetings currently scheduled before public hearings, the commission has only considered how to blend the two partisan proposals in the four easiest districts from the Senate, and has not considered how to handle the partisan House proposals.

“We need more time,” Co-chair Mackenzie Babichenko (R) said. “I think we’re going to want more time if we’re going to go through and look at all these decisions.”

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Loudoun County School Board Passes Policy That Protects First Amendment Rights in Response to Teachers’ Lawsuit

The Loudoun County school board voted on a revised professional conduct policy to specifically mention “Protected Speech” and the First Amendment rights of employees.

The new policy is a response to Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) teacher Tanner Cross who went viral for his comments at a school board meeting in May, where he spoke out against the district’s gender policy and was put on administrative leave shortly afterward. On Aug. 30 the Virginia Supreme Court ruled to reinstate him, calling his removal “likely unconstitutional.”

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Jury Trial Delayed in Loudoun County Trans Pronouns Lawsuit

A trial over whether teachers will be required to use their students’ preferred gender pronouns will have to wait for now. 

“A Virginia judge postponed Tuesday a trial in a lawsuit brought by three teachers challenging Loudoun County Public Schools’ policy requiring staff to use transgender students’ chosen pronouns,” The Washington Times reported. “Loudoun County Circuit Judge James E. Plowman Jr. decided to delay the trial after he granted a motion last week to let two of the teachers join the lawsuit and allow their amended complaint. He has not yet set a new date for the trial.”

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Virginia Supreme Court Upholds Lower Court Decision to Reinstate Loudoun Teacher Tanner Cross

The Virginia Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s injunction to force Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) to reinstate teacher Tanner Cross. LCPS officials had asked for a review of the decision by the Loudoun County Circuit Court, saying the court was incorrect to find a likelihood of success on the merits of the case, that Cross wasn’t likely to suffer irreparable harm without the injunction, and that the court hadn’t considered the totality of the circumstances.

“We conclude that the Defendants have not established the circuit court abused its discretion in granting Cross a temporary injunction,” the Virginia Supreme Court’s Monday order states.

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Conservative Virginia Supreme Court Justice Mims Retiring

Bill Mims

Virginia Supreme Court Justice William C. Mims, a Republican who earlier served as a state lawmaker and state attorney general, has announced his plans to retire from the court next spring.

Mims, who would have been eligible for reappointment in anticipation of his term ending March 31, wrote in a letter to Gov. Ralph Northam (D), House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Springfield) and Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-Alexandria) that he wants to “discern other opportunities to serve” as he turns 65 next year.

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Loudoun County Teacher Takes Gender Pronoun Fight to Virginia Supreme Court

After an elementary school teacher in Loudoun County was suspended for voicing his opposition to using students’ preferred gender pronouns at a school board meeting, his case might be headed to the Virginia Supreme Court. 

Tyson Langhofer, an attorney for Byron Tanner Cross who is an elementary physical education teacher in the district, has filed a brief with the state’s highest Court asking it not to hear Loudoun County’s appeal on the issue. 

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Northam Seeks Artifacts for New Time Capsule at the Lee Monument, Asks City of Richmond to Not Remove Monument Avenue Pedestals

It’s thought that there is a time capsule in the pedestal of the Robert E. Lee monument in Richmond. The Virginia Supreme Court is expected to rule on whether or not the state can remove the monument, and in an announcement earlier this week Governor Ralph Northam said they will open the capsule when the monument is removed. He also invited Virginians to suggest new artifacts for a replacement time capsule to be placed at the site.

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Richmond, Charlottesville Councils Consider Next Steps for Their Monuments

It’s been over eight months since Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney removed the city’s Confederate monuments to storage. In a Monday City Council meeting, City Council Interim Chief of Staff Joyce Davis announced that the Organizational Development Standing Committee would hear a resolution about the disposition of the statues. A public hearing and city council vote on the resolution is expected May 10.

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Appalachian Power Company Appealing Virginia Supreme Court for Electricity Rate Increase

After the State Corporation Commission (SCC) denied Appalachian Power Company (APC) a rate increase, the company is appealing to the Virginia Supreme Court, according to a notice of appeal filed with the SCC Monday. The company requested a rate change last year, but the SCC has reiterated its denial of the request on March 26.

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Mass Data Collection of License Plate Numbers Upheld by Virginia Supreme Court

The Virginia Supreme Court has ruled Fairfax County’s mass collection of vehicle license plate numbers does not violate legal privacy protections in a decision criticized by civil liberty advocates.

The Fairfax County Police Department won a lawsuit that challenged its use of automated license plate readers, which tracks times and locations of drivers. Because the court ruled the information the readers compile is not legally protected as personal, identifying information, Fairfax Police and other police departments in the commonwealth can continue to use them.

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Virginia Supreme Court Rejects Northam’s Eviction Moratorium Extension Request as CDC Implements New Order

The Virginia Supreme Court on Friday said it will not extend Governor Northam’s order barring eviction notices and proceedings as a newly implemented federal eviction moratorium takes effect. 

Northam asked the court for an extension of the temporary eviction order in a letter on Thursday, saying more time is needed to better understand the federal order and for the General Assembly to pass legislation to further protect Virginians. 

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Confederate Monuments Coming Down Across State, Triggering Legal Battles

Monuments dominate Virginia’s headlines this week.

On Wednesday, Portsmouth City began removing its controversial Confederate monument. Last week, an anonymous plaintiff petitioned the Virginia Supreme Court to order confederate statues removed by the city of Richmond to go back up. The Richmond Circuit Court has scheduled a trial for October 19 to begin determining whether Richmond’s Robert E. Lee statue can be removed.

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