Virginia Republicans still have time to make judicial picks

By Sean Galvin

November 15, 2019

They lost the General Assembly but could stack courts with their preferred judges before January.

Virginian Republicans may have lost the state legislature last week, but they still have power to wield before January in the state’s judiciary.

Any attempts by Republicans to pass legislation the Democrats don’t like could be vetoed by the Governor. But they can exert influence by appointing conservative judges while they are still in power. Leaders of the Virginia Republicans haven’t yet ruled out calling back party members to fill judicial vacancies before Democrats take over.

Among the positions that are currently open is a spot on the Virginia Court of Appeals, several circuit and general district court judgeship positions, and a seat on the State Corporation Commission, which has authority over public utilities like Dominion Energy.

University of Richmond Law Professor Carl Tobias says Republicans have the motive to fill these openings, as they are long term appointments and hold a significant amount of power.

“There’s the question about whether this will be done by the lame duck, if you will, Republican majorities. Or whether they will defer to the will of the people as expressed in the election and allow the Democrats then to fill those,” Tobias said in an interview with VPM.

There’s no sign that Republicans will choose moderate candidates. Democrats expressed dismay at the start of the year when Republicans elected former circuit court judge Patricia West to the State Corporation Commission, a three-judge panel in charge of public utilities, banking and insurance. West had previously served as chief deputy to former Republican state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and assisted him in challenging the Affordable Care Act and defending Virginia’s ban on gay marriage. Democrats characterized the move was Republicans flexing their political will even though the SCC is supposed to operate outside of partisan politics.

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