Virginia Congressman Swaps Districts After Gerrymandering Declared Unconstitutional (Updated)

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Analysis Politics

Virginia Congressman Swaps Districts After Gerrymandering Declared Unconstitutional (Updated)

Ally Boguhn

Seemingly absent from reporting on Rep. Randy Forbes' district shift is any note of Forbes’ extreme stances on abortion and LGBTQ equality, positions on which he has built his political career.

UPDATE, June 15, 12:40 p.m.: U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA) was defeated in his campaign for re-election in Tuesday’s primary, leaving state Del. Scott W. Taylor (R-Virginia Beach) as the Republican candidate for Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District. The loss marks “the second time in two weeks that redistricting played a role in felling a Republican House member,” reports Politico.

Virginia Rep. Randy Forbes (R) announced last week that he would switch districts, a move apparently intended to increase the odds of his re-election after a court ruling against Republican gerrymandering made his own district less friendly to him. But seemingly absent from reporting on the shift is any note of Forbes’ stances on abortion and LGBTQ equality, positions on which he would almost certainly continue a legacy of extremism should he remain in Congress.

Forbes’ decision to run in Virginia’s 2nd district, where there is “easier terrain for a Democratic challenger” instead of the 4th, which he currently represents, “is an acknowledgment that [Forbes would] face a tougher path to reelection if he stayed put,” according to the Hill.

Forbes is not required to live in the 2nd district in order to represent it in Congress.

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That “tougher path to reelection” comes after a federal appeals court reaffirmed a ruling that 2012 redistricting efforts conducted by the Republican-controlled state legislature unconstitutionally redrew election lines according to race in order to make the map more favorable to electing GOP politicians. The court found that Virginia’s 3rd district, which was already represented by a Democrat, had been packed with more Black voters to give adjacent districts a greater shot at electing Republican, thus violating the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The congressional map was consequently redrawn to distribute those voters to Forbes’ 4th district.

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case after Republicans filed an appeal against the lower court’s decision, but congressional candidates only have until March 31 to file for the June primary. Earlier this month, the Court announced it will allow the election to move forward with the newly redrawn congressional lines.

The new districts change the demographics of Forbes’ 4th district, increasing both the share of Black residents of voting age from 31.3 percent to 40.9 percent of all voters, as well as the number of Democrats.

Comparably, the 2nd district offers a more favorable environment for Forbes as he seeks to claim the seat being vacated by the retirement of Republican Rep. Scott Rigell.

Forbes has carved out a niche for himself as a member of the House Armed Services Committee, but even more notable has been his work advocating for his ultra-conservative viewpoints.

In 2005, Forbes founded the Congressional Prayer Caucus in the House of Representatives to “formally acknowledge the important role that prayer plays in American life and history and to monitor and work to guard the right of individuals in America to pray.” Now, the caucus has extended to the rest of Congress, boasting 90 members from both the House and the Senate.

As Al Jazeera America reported of the Congressional Prayer Caucus in 2013, the group and its founder have both been vocal opponents of LGBTQ equality and abortion:

The CPC has consistently framed its issues as a fight for religious freedom under siege. It opposed overturning the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and continues to maintain that its repeal infringes on the religious freedom of service members who believe homosexuality is a sin. It has sought to have Congress declare a Spiritual Heritage Week and a Ten Commandments Weekend and to take action to “protect the symbols and traditions of Christmas.” It has accused President Obama of not mentioning God enough.

Forbes recently said religious freedom is becoming a “second-tier right” and that opponents of same-sex marriage and abortion are marginalized. He has argued the government is imposing “a state-created orthodoxy” that “deems support for traditional marriage unacceptable,” “discredits those who believe that life begins at conception” and “creates a regulatory framework to prevent them from fully participating in the public square.”

The caucus is backed by the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded to “work alongside the members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus in order to build a network of like-minded government leaders who are committed to prayer and action.” Among the key issues listed on the foundation’s website is its work advocating for Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRA), which have been used by conservatives around the country to restrict access to contraception and discriminate against LGBTQ individuals. 

Forbes’ extreme record extends far beyond the group he founded. According to the anti-choice organization National Right to Life, Forbes has consistently voted with the organization on all key votes scored. Upon his election to Congress in 2001, National Right to Life PAC Director Carol Tobias wrote that the anti-choice community was “smiling broadly,” noting Forbes’ “solid pro-life voting record” during his time in the state legislature.

In 2011, Forbes co-sponsored the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” which would have banned federal funding for abortion, essentially codifying the Hyde Amendment permanently into federal law. This particular iteration of the legislation was most notable for having attempted to redefine what kind of sexual assault would merit an exception to its ban on abortion funding, claiming that only “forcible” rape would qualify. That language was eventually dropped from the legislation, which passed through the House before dying in the Senate.

In a statement on the bill, Forbes touted his anti-choice credentials and promised to continue to fight against abortion during his time in Congress. “I am, and always have been, pro-life,” claimed Forbes. “As a public servant, I feel I have a special obligation to protect innocent, young life. You can be certain that throughout my tenure in Congress, as was true throughout my tenure in the Virginia Senate, I will be a strong advocate for the unborn.”

Forbes championed Hobby Lobby in 2014 as its case against the Obama administration’s birth control benefit made its way to the Supreme Court. Leading the charge with Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), Forbes helped gather 16 senators and 72 congressmen to file an amicus brief defending the craft store chain on the basis of religious freedoms.

No American should be forced to choose between following their faith and complying with a burdensome government mandate,” Forbes said in a March 2014 statement ahead of the case’s oral arguments. “America has a deeply held tradition of respecting the freedom of conscience, and our laws should not force individuals or businesses to violate these beliefs just to operate a business or access health insurance.”

More recently, Forbes participated in a House investigation of Planned Parenthood based on the deceptively edited videos produced by anti-choice group the Center for Medical Progress, whose leader has now been indicted on felony charges. During one of those hearings, Forbes blatantly admitted that the “purpose” of the investigation was to call into question the morality of abortion, not to investigate alleged wrongdoing on behalf of the reproductive health organization.

A list of Forbes’ “accomplishments” in “American Culture and History” on his website outlines several more attempts to push anti-choice views through Congress, including co-sponsoring legislation to reinstate the “Mexico City Policy,” which blocks international family planning organizations that perform abortions from receiving federal funding, co-sponsoring the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act, which would ban minors from traveling across state lines to receive an abortion, and co-sponsoring the Positive Alternatives Actwhich would have allowed states to use federal funding meant to help low-income families through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to promote anti-choice counseling and services.

Forbes’ “Family Values” page similarly details another laundry list of anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ equality measures he has supported or co-sponsored, including a variety of actions staunchly opposing same-sex marriage.

Given Forbes’ record, at stake in Virginia is much more than a Republican’s seat in the House—the congressman’s re-election would mean the continuation of a legacy of opposition to abortion access and LGBTQ equality.