August 5, 2015
CONTACT: Morgan Finkelstein,


Lynchburg News & Advance (Editorial)

Odds are most Virginians don’t know the name of a single justice on the state’s Supreme Court, but the court’s impact is felt throughout the commonwealth.

It’s the court of last appeal for criminal cases before a defendant can enter the federal judicial system. It’s the court that has the final say in all civil, family and administrative law cases, too. And its history dates to 1623, when the House of Burgesses created a court of appeals to hear cases from lower courts in the colony.

But it’s a court that’s rarely in the newspapers or on the nightly newscasts.

Until now.

Earlier this year, Justice LeRoy R. Millette Jr. announced he would be retiring from the court, after serving for seven years. After an extensive selection process, on July 27, Gov. Terry McAuliffe tapped Circuit Court Judge Jane Marum Roush, a long-time judge in Fairfax County, as the newest member of the Supreme Court. She was sworn into office July 31, after submitting her resignation in Fairfax.

Under the Virginia Constitution, the General Assembly must sign off on the nomination at its next session which, in this case, would be on Aug. 17 when they’ll be redrawing congressional districts under the orders of the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

It’s a pretty standard process that’s been followed time and again over the years when governors have nominated judges for vacancies between sessions.

Except this time.

When McAuliffe announced the Roush nomination, Republican members of the Fairfax County delegation in the Assembly raved over her qualifications. Del. David Albo, the Fairfax Republican who chairs the House Courts of Justice Committee, even appeared with her and the governor at the announcement.

Late Sunday night, House of Delegates Speaker Bill Howell and Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment dropped a bombshell in the capital, when they released a statement they wouldn’t be supporting Roush and, instead, would nominate and confirm another judge, Rossie D. Alston Jr. of the Court of Appeals, to the Supreme Court.

So what’s the problem with Judge Roush, who’s been on the bench in Fairfax since 1993 and whom many Republican legislators just days ago said was “highly qualified” and would sail through the confirmation process “with flying colors”?

Nothing, it would appear.

The problem, for Roush, is upcoming special session, which Gov. McAuliffe called after a three-judge panel upheld a lower ruling that Virginia’s congressional districts were unconstitutional, finding that Assembly Republicans wrongly packed minority voters into a single district in order to make others more reliably Republican-leaning. They ordered the Assembly to draw new lines by Sept. 1.

Republicans didn’t want a special session called, preferring to wait until all appeals — presumably to the U.S. Supreme Court — had been exhausted, so they were understandably miffed when McAuliffe summoned them back to the capital this month.

So are Assembly Republican leaders holding the Roush nomination hostage in hopes McAuliffe will drop the Aug. 17 special session? You’ve certainly got to wonder. Whatever is going through their heads, it certainly is nothing about good government.