Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli gave a lecture on the state of federalism at the College of William and Mary’s Marshall-Wythe School of Law Thursday, touching upon and justifying his controversial decisions to attempt to rein in the federal government.
The attorney general, who has proven to be a lightning-rod conservative figure in Virginia politics since the start of his term in January 2010, was hosted by the Law and Public Policy class.
Cuccinelli has had many prominent decisions to date as attorney general. In March 2010, he advised Virginia state universities that sexual orientation could not be included under anti-discrimination policies. He has investigated the emails of climate-change scientists at the University of Virginia, claiming that their research violated the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act. Backed by Liberty University, he recently became the nation’s first attorney general to file a lawsuit challenging the healthcare reform law. The suit was dismissed by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond.
“When I ran for office in 2009, I promised people that if the federal government crossed certain lines — as they were threatening to do at that time — we would push back. I just didn’t expect so many opportunities to keep my promise,” Cuccinelli said. “We don’t have enough folks who are principled restrainers of the federal government in Washington, and when that’s the case, state attorneys general become the last line of defense.”
A former state senator who represented a Northern Virginia district from 2002 until the start of his term as attorney general, Virginia’s top lawyer argued that government is best when limited. He noted in the beginning of his lecture that the federal government’s size has grown due to public demand for the government to respond to social problems, which has led to what he views as a state of inefficient bureaucracy and limited individual liberties.
“As we have moved through our country’s history, the American people, urged on frequently by the political class, have demanded that government take care of more and more problems, and government has been more than willing to accommodate that trend,” Cuccinelli said. “And all government asks is that we give up a little more of our liberty.”
Law professor James Heller, who organized the event, said that he invites “conservative” and “liberal” speakers each year. Previous speakers have included chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice and radio show host Jay Sekulow and capital defender David Baugh.
“Having people like Ken, Jay and David speak to the law school community and have a conversation with our class gives students a better sense of how public policy and law intersect, and how real people deal with difficult issues every day,” Heller said in an email. “Needless to say, I like having people with strong opinions.”
Cuccinelli, whose last public visit to the College was in September 2009 during his campaign for attorney general, is expected by many to run for Virginia governor.
“You hear a lot of discussion, especially as we approach 2012, about the exceptionalism of America. And it is an exceptional nation,” Cuccinelli said. “What makes us exceptional, historically in my view, is our commitment to individual liberty. When government gets out of the way of this greatest people in the history of the world, we do amazing things. We do amazing things. There’s a lot of hope and opportunity there if government would get out of the way and, frankly, obey the law.”