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Electing Justice Roush to the Supreme Court of Virginia


Carl Tobias


January 11, 2016

In late April 2015, the Supreme Court of Virginia announced that Justice LeRoy F. Millette, Jr. would retire on July 31, 2015. Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe expeditiously created an open process for tapping a worthy successor. At July’s conclusion, the Governor appointed Fairfax County Circuit Judge Jane Marum Roush, an experienced, consensus jurist. On a Sunday night, merely two days after Roush swore her oath of office, Republican General Assembly leaders proclaimed their caucuses’ intention to elect another individual, despite conceding that Roush was very qualified. During the August special session, this concerted GOP endeavor prompted a Republican senator to join Democrats who opposed the prospect and concomitantly adjourned. GOP leaders then contended that legislators remained in session, as the Virginia Constitution explicitly prescribes Senate and House of Delegates consent to adjourn. The Governor’s Counsel next penned an opinion that concluded that lawmakers had adjourned, so McAuliffe could appoint Justice Roush to the Court again, a choice that he implemented thirty days after adjournment. Because these efforts precipitated a constitutional standoff and will consequently plague future judicial selection, they warrant analysis.

The initial part of this Article chronicles the rise and evolution of Virginia court selection. Part Two scrutinizes recent machinations, determining that the procedures now merit improvement. The last section proffers suggestions. For the near term, the Assembly ought to promptly elect Roush. She brings twenty-two years of judicial service, including over five months as a justice. Moreover, Roush’s removal for reasons unrelated to her abilities, earlier performance, or future capacity to serve would make a mockery of the selection regime, undermining citizen respect for it, the whole state judiciary, as well as the Governor and the Assembly. Across the longer term, the Commonwealth must evaluate and initiate changes that will enhance selection.