Editorial: Don’t fire Justice Roush

Judge Jane Roush

By Virginia Lawyers Weekly

Last week’s front page reported that Gov. Terry McAuliffe had tapped Fairfax Circuit Judge Jane Marum Roush to fill a seat on the Supreme Court of Virginia.

The choice of Roush was widely applauded. She had become the go-to judge for the Supreme Court to handle tough assignments by designation when other jurists had conflicts. Some of the cases, including the Beltway Sniper prosecution and the complicated Kyanite mining case, were high profile. By all accounts, Roush handled those assignments with grace and excellent judgment.

The Fairfax delegation, both Republicans and Democrats, strongly and vocally backed her for the high court opening created by the retirement of Justice LeRoy F. Millette Jr. After the governor called, Roush quit the circuit judgeship she had held for 22 years and prepared for the new opportunity.

This week’s front page reports that Republican leaders in the General Assembly have announced that they plan instead to select Court of Appeals Judge Rossie D. Alston Jr. to fill Millette’s seat when the legislature convenes in special session later this month.

Did Roush fail a background check? Was she caught doing something illegal or immoral during her first week on the court? Have her 22 years on the Fairfax bench been a carefully calculated ruse?

No, Republican leaders say the governor didn’t consult them on the appointment. They apparently want to teach him a lesson, using a highly respected judge as a bludgeon.

Set aside for a minute your incredulity: You mean McAuliffe didn’t consult them and make sure his pick would get through? And you mean the Republican leaders would be that petty?

Apparently not and apparently so. The #GOP leadership inexplicably seems willing to make Roush collateral damage in their effort to embarrass McAuliffe and teach him a lesson.

But even if the governor failed to practice basic politics before the appointment, it’s just wrong to dump Roush at this point.

The Republican leaders, from House Speaker Bill Howell to Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, have no objections to Roush or her qualifications. In fact, they acknowledge her accomplishments. They simply seek to punish McAuliffe.

To say this act of pettiness is unprecedented is an understatement. The General Assembly has rejected interim judicial appointments by a governor maybe two or three times ever; the last time it happened at the high court level was in 1901.

The GOP leadership needs to think about the impact of their threatened move on the future of the process. The Republicans won’t run the General Assembly forever; there will be a time when a revenge payback will take out a highly qualified candidate backed by the GOP.

This dustup involves one of only seven seats on the highest court in the commonwealth. Does the GOP leadership think this unseemly dance will somehow increase respect for the law and the judicial system?

Roush has built a stellar judicial career after leaving a nice, no doubt well-paying, job at Hogan & Hartson in 1993 to join the Fairfax bench. If the GOP leadership follows through with their stated plan, Roush will be unemployed. Her gig in Fairfax is over.

She could hang out a shingle or take a spot at a mediation company. At 58, she is too young simply to retire, and she has too much to offer to the commonwealth.

And what of Judge Alston? He too has built a fine judicial career as a member of the Prince William circuit bench, then the appeals court. Does he want to go on the high court and hold a seat that will be a lasting example of petty politics?

Here is a simple plea to the Republican leadership in the General Assembly: You’ve made your point. The governor no doubt gets it by now. Don’t let your pique at McAuliffe end the judicial career of an excellent jurist. Don’t let the commonwealth’s highest court become a repository for the basest of politics.

Don’t fire Justice Jane Marum Roush.

Office of Governor Terence R. McAuliffe
Press Special Assistant