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Virginia Attorney General Vs. Science

10/21 update: On 10/20, the University of Virginia made two court filings in its fight against Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli's harassment of climate scientist Michael Mann. In its most strongly-worded court filing to date, UVA characterized Cuccinelli's investigation as “an unprecedented and improper governmental intrusion into ongoing scientific research” and said that Cuccinelli is targeting Mann because he “disagrees with his academic research regarding climate change.” 

10/5 update: Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli renewed his investigation of climate scientist Michael Mann, filing another subpoena demanding access to Mann's research materials.

8/30 update: In a victory for academic freedom, the judge sided with the university and dismissed attorney general Ken Cuccinelli's subpoena for records related to the research activities of a former University of Virginia climate change scientist.

Read the amicus brief. (.pdf)

August 18, 2010
Contacts:  ACLU of Virginia: Kent Willis, 804-644-8022
Union of Concerned Scientists: 202-331-5452

The AAUP, ACLU of Virginia, Union of Concerned Scientists, and Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression have joined forces to file an amicus brief (.pdf) asking a Virginia judge to set aside a demand from Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli for documents related to the research of a global warming expert once employed by the University of Virginia.

AAUP President Cary Nelson states,"“Cuccinelli’s ocean-wide fishing expedition not only infringes on academic freedom; it also carries the threat of a chilling effect on all scholars working in controversial areas affecting public policy. His nets were cast without sufficient justification. We are delighted to join the effort to have them withdrawn.”

Cuccinelli, whose opposition to global warming theories is well known, created a public stir earlier this year when he sought records from UVA related to the communications and research of former professor Michael Mann, a widely published proponent of global warming theory.  Among the broad range of records sought were emails that Mann sent to and received from colleagues since 1999.

After learning of Cuccinelli’s demand for information on Mann and reading media reports indicating that UVA was inclined to comply, the AAUP and the ACLU of Virginia urged university officials (.pdf)  to exercise their right to oppose the demand. 

In late May, lawyers from UVA filed papers in court arguing that the attorney general does not have the authority to demand the records and private communications of a college professor without justification.  Today’s amicus brief supports UVA’s position.

Cuccinelli is attempting to use the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act to access Mann’s records.  Under the VFTA, the attorney general may issue a “Civil Investigative Demand” for information related to acts of fraud against the state, but he must first have “reason to believe” that an act of fraud has been committed and must assert the nature of the conduct under investigation.  Lawyers for UVA have argued (.pdf) that the attorney general has not met either of those conditions. 

Arguments on UVA’s petition to set aside the attorney general’s demands are scheduled to take place this Friday, August 20, at 2:00 p.m. in the Albemarle Circuit Court in Charlottesville.

The American Association of University Professors is a nonprofit charitable and educational organization that promotes academic freedom by supporting tenure, academic due process, shared governance and standards of quality in higher education. The AAUP has over 48,000 members at colleges and universities throughout the United States.

Media Contact: 
Legal Department
Publication Date: 
Thursday, October 21, 2010