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Washington Examiner: Marshall a common thread in recent AG opinions Print
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By David Sherfinski, Examiner Staff Writer

© September 10, 2010

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's opinions on the hot-button issues of illegal immigration, abortion and religious displays on public grounds have brought him big headlines - and they've all originated from Del. Bob Marshall.

The Prince William Republican, one of the legislature's most conservative members, asked Cucinelli to issue advisory opinions about all three issues. The attorney general is required by law to issue an advisory opinion, which does not carry the force of law, when asked for one by a state official.

Cuccinelli has issued rulings saying that Virginia law enforcement officers have the right to inquire into the immigration status of anyone stopped or arrested, that the state has the authority to impose stricter regulations on facilities that provide first-trimester abortions, and that religious displays are allowed on public property - as long as they're balanced with other, secular displays.

"They've been quite the penpals," said Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, who said Marshall was circumventing the legal process since the General Assembly has rejected the measure on abortion clinics. "It makes our legislative branch weaker. We have separation of powers for a reason."

Marshall said he was approached by constituents on the matters of immigration and religious displays. And Cuccinelli sent an identical letter about abortion clinics to state Sen. Ralph Smith, R-Roanoke, who also asked for an opinion.

Still, political analyst Bob Holsworth, founder of Virginia Tomorrow, a company that examines trends in politics, society and business, described Marshall's inquiries as "one of the more creative political strategies" in recent years.

"People have used this tool before, but never has it been honed to perfection as Marshall has done," he said. "This is not a coincidence."

Gov. Bob McDonnell told reporters recently that, in issuing the advisory opinions, Cuccinelli is merely obeying the law in his capacity as attorney general.

McDonnell himself issued an opinion in 2007 saying that Manassas has limited authority to regulate abortion clinics -- an opinion that was issued in response to an inquiry from then-state Sen. Cuccinelli.