United States Supreme Court

Interview: Senator Jill Vogel, Part 1

Senator Jill Vogel (R-27, Winchester) is in her first term in the Virginia Senate. She is a rising star in the Republican Party of Virgina, let alone in the GOP caucus, and already has led on a number of issues, becoming an effective voice for conservatism in the very liberal Senate. She sits on the General Laws and Technology, Privileges and Elections, and Rehabilitation and Social Services Committees. This year, she was one of three patrons of Senate legislation that protects Virginians from the increasingly long arm and outright girth of the federal government over states and individuals in the area of health care. Her bill, SB 417, with the others, shocked liberals across the state by passing the Democrat controlled Senate and now is on the way to Governor Bob McDonnell's desk for his signature, which will make Virginia the first state to protect itself from ObamaCare. We originally scheduled this interview for one part, but Senator Vogel gave such informative replies, we decided to break it up. So, here, in part one, we ask her about her Health Care Freedom legislation. In part two, we'll cover the state budget and spending, the economic benefit of eliminating corporate taxes, and de-funding Planned Parenthood.

FamilyFoundationBlog: Senator Vogel, thank you very much for spending time with us and answering these questions. They cover a broad range of topics of interest to our readers. As we have just passed "Crossover," we very much look forward to your answers and insights as to what is happening in the General Assembly. Are you ready for some questions?

Senator Jill Vogel: I am ready and I am happy to have an opportunity to be with you. Also, before we begin I should tell you how grateful I am for all that The Family Foundation does to provide support and encouragement on the bills that I have carried. It is a huge help.

With crossover behind us, this is a perfect opportunity to take stock of where we are and for me to answer some questions about progress in the Senate this year. It has been an intense session, but with the help of the newly elected Governor we have made some significant headway on issues affecting jobs and the economy as well as a long list of other issues that are priorities for us.

FamilyFoundationBlog: Thank you for those kind words. That's very high praise. Now, question one: You are one of the leaders in Health Care Freedom legislation to protect Virginians from the federal government's reach into our personal health care decisions. Why did you take on this issue?

Senator Vogel: I took this on because it is time that our state legislature acted on this subject — both to protect our citizens and to reinforce that what the federal government is currently attempting to do with health care is not only bad public policy, but it is unconstitutional.

My bill is simple. It makes it illegal to impose insurance mandates on the citizens of the Commonwealth and forecloses the kinds of mandates that government run health care would dictate. Frankly, never in the history of this country has the federal government attempted such a power grab and I have an obligation to the citizens that I represent to prevent Congress from usurping the authority for decisions that are clearly left to individuals and the states under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Such a scheme by the federal government will never survive a Constitutional challenge and Virginia’s legislation sets us up for that challenge. The United States Supreme Court has never expanded the 10th Amendment or the Commerce Clause or any other category to reach the regulation of the purchase of a private product. We can incentivize certain behavior, we can tie certain requirements to certain funding or other contingencies, but a flat out mandate of this nature is a clear violation of the Constitution.

Other state legislatures around the nation have taken up the charge as well and, at this count, I think more than 38 states are considering similar measures. The point is that states are the breeding ground of innovation and competition for new ideas and solutions about health care should be left to the states. I am proud to say that yesterday marked the passage of the legislation in both the House and Senate of Virginia, bringing us national attention as the first state legislature to fully pass the measure.

FamilyFoundationBlog: Were you prepared for the heated barrage of questions and, quite frankly, the rude treatment from one of your liberal colleagues in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee? Also, tell us about the close vote in the committee — did it surprise you that it even got reported? How much work went in to convincing Senators Colgan and Puckett to crossover?

Senator Vogel: I knew that the issue would be controversial and politically charged and I think the slim margin of the vote made it that much more tense. I was surprised that the bill passed in a committee with such a large Democratic majority on the committee and that merely reinforces that this is not a partisan issue. Also, it was not a hard sell with Senators Colgan and Puckett, whose votes very much reflect the mood of their districts.

FamilyFoundationBlog: Were you surprised at the big margin the Health Care bills passed in the Senate given the liberal control of that chamber? Have you seen an issue like this before that has so galvanized such a large number of people from all across the political spectrum?

Senator Vogel: Once it passed committee, I was less surprised at the amount of bipartisan support in the full Senate. Again, those numbers just reinforce that these concerns about health care are compelling to people across the political spectrum. No matter what, Virginians don’t believe in a one size fits all health care solution that subjects them to the dictates of a federal bureaucracy that manages health care.

Chaplain Gate

The birthplace for religious freedom in America is quickly becoming its graveyard.  News stories broke across Virginia yesterday concerning a case The Family Foundation became involved with last week (read Norfolk Virginian-Pilot article, here). The superintendent of the Virginia State Police, a political appointee of Governor Tim Kaine, recently ordered State Police chaplains to cease praying "in Christ's name" (read Richmond Times-Dispatch article, here). Apparently the superintendent did this proactively, without any complaints from anyone "offended" that a chaplain actually had prayed to God. Six of the chaplains have had the courage to resign their positions over this order.

Last week we were informed of this new policy and were put in contact with one of the chaplains involved. We then connected him with Alliance Defense Fund, one of the leading religious liberty legal advocate groups in the nation. It currently is reviewing the facts of the case to determine the proper action. Wednesday,  House Majority Leader Morgan Griffith (R-8, Salem) and Delegate Bill Carrico (R-5, Independence) slammed Governor Kaine and the state police superintendent for this new policy in a press release, bringing this situation to light (read Washington Times article, here).

The superintendent says he is basing his policy change on a recent U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision involving prayer at government meetings, specifically a case where a pastor in the Fredericksburg area was ordered to stop praying "in Jesus name" at city council meetings. The court concluded that allowing someone to publicly pray according to his beliefs at a government meeting was an "establishment of religion" because the prayer was "government speech."

Once again the religious liberty and free speech rights of Christians have been banished from the public square (read Roanoke Times article, here). Arguing that allowing someone to offer a sectarian prayer is an "endorsement of religion" is absurd. It turns the establishment clause of the First Amendment against the free exercise clause as if the two are incompatible. Just the idea that there is such a thing as "government speech" violates the fundamental idea of America. Our Founding Fathers must be rolling in their graves.

This situation again highlights the importance of who will sit on the courts deciding these cases. Ultimately, it is likely that this will all be resolved by the United States Supreme Court. Because at least two justices on that court likely are to retire during the term of the next president, the judicial philosophy the candidates for president hold is a critical decision point as we determine who should receive our vote.

We will continue to work with the troopers involved in this case, the Alliance Defense Fund, and members of the General Assembly to seek an outcome where religious liberty once again stands as a pillar of strength in our commonwealth.

Pastors Energized To Make A Difference After This Week's "Watchmen on the Wall" Conference

Nearly 250 pastors and church leaders earlier this week joined together in Williamsburg at a "Watchmen on the Wall" conference co-sponsored by the Family Research Council and The Family Foundation of Virginia. The attendees were urged to speak out on important issues of the day and to encourage their members to take their civic responsibilities seriously.This year The Family Research Council is hosting several "Watchmen on the Wall" pastor conferences across the nation, including in Washington, D.C.; California, Arizona and New Hampshire. To date, nearly 2,000 pastors have joined together and hundreds of others have joined The Family Research Council's pastors' effort. Family Research Council President Tony Perkins told the crowd, "Your leadership is absolutely fundamental and essential to this nation. My hope for America is not bailing out Wall Street. My hope for America is not in education. My hope for America is not in our strong military. My hope for America is Jesus Christ."

Former U.S. Representative Bob McEwen (R-Ohio) encouraged pastors to make sure people in their congregations are registered to vote. He said, "There are fifty million self-identified evangelicals in the United States. That's fifty million votes. Fifty million votes wins everything." Statistics indicate that at least half of self-identified evangelicals are not registered to vote. Dozens of churches in Virginia have been holding voter registration drives and will continue to do so up until the registration deadline (click here to see how to get involved).

Pastors also were educated by Alliance Defense Fundsenior counsel Jordan Lorence about their legal rights concerning speaking about issues, educating their congregations and providing election materials. Lorence has argued numerous times before the United States Supreme Court. 

The audience also heard from Bishop Harry Jackson of the High Impact Leadership Coalition, Delegate Brenda Pogge (R-96, Yorktown) and Attorney General Bob McDonnell. 

The Family Foundation, along with its pastor outreach arm, Pastors For Family Values, co-hosted the event. Pastors For Family Values provides support for pastors who speak on cultural issues and provide civil leadership. Pastors For Family Values formed in 2007 after Virginians in 2006 overwhelmingly voted to pass a Constitutional amendment defining marriage — as an outgrowth of pastoral involvement in that effort, several pastors of various denominations and ethnicities approached The Family Foundation with the concept of forming a pastors group.

It is absolutely essential for church leaders to take the lead and speak out on the values issues that shape our nation and our culture. While some organizations try to intimidate and discourage religious leaders from exercising their rights and freedoms in the political sphere, we urge them to reject those fear tactics and take a vocal stand on important issues. Only when our churches take a stand will we see our laws begin to reflect the traditional values our nation once stood upon.

Attendees left the "Watchmen on the Wall" conference excited and challenged. Nearly 20,000 church going Virginians were represented by the participating pastors. The impact these pastors and those church members can have on Virginia's political culture is enormous.

There is a tremendous amount of energy among pastors and church leaders and there is no question this energy will affect the congregations they represent. The potential impact of this energy and leadership cannot be underestimated. It isn't intended simply to affect one election or one campaign cycle but to bring change to an entire culture. This week was an important step toward that change.

Constitutional Rights Upheld, Another Victory For Religious Liberty

A federal court recently ruled in favor of Christian students in the Williamsburg-James City County School District after that district's superintendent unfairly charged them a fee for use of the district's facilities (read Richmond Times-Dispatch article here). The district school board ignored advice from Liberty Counsel, a Christian legal group, and now will have to cough up more than $20,000 in taxpayer money for legal fees to pay for its discrimination. The case was brought by the Child Evangelism Fellowship of Virginia after it was forced to pay fees for use of school facilities when other groups were allowed free access. Liberty Counsel warned the school district that it was discriminating, but the school district refused to listen. Liberty Counsel then brought suit and won in federal court.

Once again a school administration chose to act against religious liberty in the face of not only advice from a premier legal group, but also the United States Constitution and previous court rulings. It is unfortunate that the school administrator's decision will cost the taxpayers of that school district more $20,000 in  case it was destined to lose in addition to refunding the fees Child Evangelism Fellowship was forced to pay.

As The Family Foundation fought to pass legislation this year to protect the religious liberty rights of students in the classroom we were confronted over and over with the argument that "there isn't a problem" and that "religious expression thrives in Virginia."  We know this is not true. This case proves the point.

Unfortunately, some school administrators are outright hostile to religious expression, to the point of ignoring several cases that have well established "equal access" in case law, including cases that go back to the early 1980s, as well as the high profile Good News Club v. Milford Central School in 2001 (read case synopsis here). Exactly what are these school board attorneys advising if even non-legal experts are aware of this case law?

In Milford, the United States Supreme Court held that an outside religious club could meet at an elementary school after school hours because the school permitted other non-religious groups to meet at the same time and there was no perceived endorsement of the club's religious activity. 

However, unfortunately, many school administrators simply are ignorant. Virginia schools work under religious liberty guidelines drafted by then-Attorney General Jim Gilmore in the mid-1990s as well as the new Religious Liberty law we worked to pass during the 2008 General Assembly. Additionally, we currently are working with Attorney General Bob McDonnell's office in hopes that it will update those decade-old guidelines. 

Breaking: Fourth Circuit Court Strikes Down Virginia's Partial Birth Abortion Ban 2-1

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Virginia's partial birth ban by 2-1 decision in Richmond Medical Center v. Herring. (Read the opinion here.) This is horrible news. Hopefully, Attorney General Bob McDonnell will appeal to the full court or to the United States Supreme Court. After all, this case was heard because of a Supreme Court ruling that upheld another partial birth abortion ban. Read our summary of the hearing in early November here, as well as more impressions we had after the oral arguments here. (On those threads are links to legal opinions and audio of oral arguments in other key pro-life cases which played a role in this hearing.)

The decision was somewhat expected given the dispositions of Judges Diana Motz and M. Blane Michael, whose questions toward Virginia Solicitor General William Thro were clearly antagonistic. Judge Paul Neimeyer, on the other hand, seemed through his questioning, inclined toward upholding the law. Accordingly, the former two judges voted to overturn the law and the latter voted to sustain it.

More to come, possibly today, definitely tomorrow.

Four Thoughts, One Theme: Credibility

Expectations are a funny thing. Attending the hearing by a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on Virginia’s partial birth infanticide law, I expected certain things. I came away with four impressions: 1. Isn’t this the same place where at least hundreds lined the streets to protest Michael Vick for killing dogs?

Killing dogs is horrible, but where’s the public outcry against a practice whereby babies almost ready for delivery get their skulls crushed and remains sucked out of a woman’s womb?

2. It doesn’t matter what the issue is, or even the venue — not even one as august as so high a court: liberal arguments are just as incoherent and their tactics just the same as during the hysteria of a protest rally — change the subject, ignore the central point, redefine established facts; heck, just make up stuff.

The pro-abortion lawyer, at one point, was so off base, intentionally mixing issues, attempting to make non-germane points link to her shaky premise, that even Judge Motts, who voted previously to strike down this law, said, “Now, you’re confusing me!” At another point, Judge Paul Neimeyer asked her a question, and the lawyer refused to answer it, instead pointing to something on the Commonwealth’s brief on page eight. Judge Neimeyer had to ask her at least three times to answer the question, his irritation increasing each time. By contrast, even when Judge Diana Motz and Judge M. Blane Michael disagreed with Solicitor General William Thro, it was on interpretation, not fact.

3. Use whatever description you want — painfully awkward, bizarre, or "Twilight Zone” come to mind . . .

But it was disturbing to listen to the solicitor general have to make the case — in order for the law to be ruled constitutional — that the law did not cover, nor would an abortionist be prosecuted in situations where he allowed a pre-viability baby born by accident (when born accidentally) to be put aside to die due to inattention. Maybe the word is sick.

4. How come individuals, politicians and organizations who claim they want abortion to be “safe, legal and rare” seem to ignore the “rare”?

I have never heard any pro-abortion advocate speak in favor of counseling for giving birth and putting the child up for adoption or any other option that involves life. It’s all-abortion-all-the-time. Exactly what qualifies as “rare” anyway? More than a million abortions a year seems a bit high for “rare.” If they are really for “choice” why not provide true counseling and information on the possible options and services available for women who carry the baby to term? Doesn’t true choice mean there’s another course of action available? Why, then, is it always straight to the abortion factory? Apparently, credibility is only a concept when defending the “right” to kill babies ready to live outside the womb.

Rehearing Babies' Deaths

The Richmond-based U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments Thursday regarding Virginia’s Partial Birth Infanticide statute. The Virginia law, originally ruled unconstitutional (on a 2-1 vote) by the same three-judge panel who presided yesterday, was revisited because of an April decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Gonzalez v. Carhart. In that case, the justices ruled 5-4 in favor of upholding a certain partial birth abortion ban. (Hear those oral arguments.)

Lost in the argument regarding whether a facial or as-applied challenge was appropriate, was the gruesome details of the procedure that Virginia seeks to ban. Even more disturbing is what the Virginia law does not ban because of the woman’s constitutional right to kill her child. We learned in the argument that a Richmond abortionist believes that it is appropriate to begin to perform an abortion, accidentally deliver, and then set the child aside to die. In fact, based on the argument yesterday, this act is not just constitutionally protected, but Virginia’s partial birth infanticide ban would not make the act illegal. A child born at 19 or 20 weeks is callously laid to the side and left to die of natural causes. Virginia’s law would ban abortionists from accidentally delivering the child and then stabbing the child in the skull.

How can it be appropriate to deliver a child and let the living breathing child die a slow death because the doctor believes him to be pre-viability? With advances in technology, infants are becoming viable at earlier ages. Why shouldn’t doctors have an obligation to try and save a living, breathing child? At the end of life, we provide comfort to those who are terminally ill and do everything we can medically to ease the pain and suffering. Yet, a baby born at 19 weeks is thrown aside like garbage.   

Oh, and by the way, the General Assembly has twice rejected Family Foundation efforts to provide anesthesia to the babies who die by partial birth abortion as well as those who die of natural causes because the “procedure” didn’t go as planned.