RICHMOND, Va. (Legal Newsline) - Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said Monday he plans to reappoint state Supreme Court Justice Jane Marum Roush next month.
McAuliffe selected Roush, a longtime judge for the Fairfax County Circuit Court, to fill the open seat left behind on the state’s high court by retiring Justice LeRoy Millette Jr.
Millette, who announced his retirement in April, officially stepped down July 31.
GOP lawmakers quickly came out against the Democratic governor’s selection.
Virginia House of Delegates Speaker William Howell and Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment Jr. said they and “their respective caucuses” instead would support Virginia Court of Appeals Judge Rossie D. Alston Jr.
“The Constitution of Virginia vests the authority to elect judges with the General Assembly. Although Governor McAuliffe has designated a different candidate, who is also highly qualified, a consensus has developed among the members of the Senate Republican Caucus that Judge Alston should fill this vacancy,” Norment said in an Aug. 2 statement.
Typically, appointing new justices to the Supreme Court is a task of the General Assembly; however, the Virginia Constitution allows the governor to fill vacancies on state courts when the legislature is not in session.
Lawmakers held a special session Monday to produce a new state congressional map and consider the court appointments, both of which were unsuccessful.
Members of a judicial selection committee refused to interview Roush earlier in the day. Later, in the afternoon, the state Senate voted against the GOP’s pick, Alston, with Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam providing the tie-breaking vote against electing the appeals court judge.
“Justice Roush is eminently qualified, has bipartisan support and is currently hearing cases as a sitting justice of the Supreme Court,” Northam said in a statement after the vote.
“As 24 past presidents of the Virginia Bar Association rightly pointed out in their letter to members of the General Assembly, ‘the removal of this sitting justice from office would make a mockery of the Virginia judicial appointment process, constitute a gross injustice, cause great personal harm to the justice involved and strongly discourage future highly qualified potential candidates.’”
He continued, “While this special session was supposed to be about fairly redrawing the state’s 11-district congressional map, which the courts have repeatedly found to be unconstitutional, it instead devolved into an unfortunate attempt to unseat a highly distinguished Supreme Court justice solely because of partisan posturing and power politics.”
McAuliffe said he was “shocked and saddened” that Republican leaders flat-out denied Roush a hearing.
“This is not the Virginia way to treat anyone, let alone an outstanding female jurist,” he said in a statement. “Republicans have yet to raise a single concern about Justice Roush’s legal skills or her integrity. Indeed, they have repeatedly acknowledged that her qualifications are unmatched.”
Instead, they have turned the decision into an “embarrassing partisan circus,” the governor said.
“I call on lawmakers to return to Virginia’s time-honored traditions for electing judges. I ask that they walk across the street and invite Justice Roush to a new hearing, one that is open and fair, and gives this highly qualified judge the respect she is due,” he said.
GOP lawmakers argue that McAuliffe won’t have the authority to reappoint Roush next month. The full General Assembly, they contend, has not adjourned.
“The House of Delegates remains in session, pursuant to Article IV, Section 6 of the Constitution of Virginia,” a group of Republican leaders said in a statement Monday.
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at email@example.com.