The General Assembly is back in Session – Special Session – to make important decisions on the roughly $4.3 billion in federal pandemic relief funds allocated by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), and to make appointments to the Court of Appeals of Virginia. Though all 140 legislators are back together in Richmond for the first time since April of 2020, this Special Session has been less accessible and accountable than even the virtual and remote location sessions.
Court of Appeals and Judicial Appointments
During the Special Session, the Legislature elected judges to the Court of Appeals, Circuit Court, General District Court, and Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. Like the budget process, the selection of judges was conducted in secret, and introduced on the floor of the Senate by the Chair of the Judiciary Committee as the “Democratic nominees” for judges. This process was unprecedented – both in its blatant disregard for public accountability and for its overtly partisan process.
How were the nominees for judicial election selected? We don’t really know. We also don’t know what was asked of these candidates, whether there were specific public policy issues discussed, or what their interpretation of their role on the court is. Democrats held unprecedented secret interviews with judicial candidates, unilaterally determining who would be interviewed and who would be nominated.
There was bipartisan disappointment in the Senate once this meeting came to light, leading to the Senate Chair of the Judiciary to invite all Senators, on a Friday afternoon when the Senate was no longer in Session, to submit their recommendations to the open positions within 26 hours on the following Saturday.
However, only the pre-chosen candidates were selected to be interviewed in a quick public meeting on the same day as both the Senate and House of Delegates elected them to the bench, effectively silencing the public and most of their elected representatives the ability to critically consider the candidates for these prestigious and essential positions as arbitrators of our laws.
These backroom negotiations for judicial candidates (now elected judges) and overly partisan process weakens the constitutionally necessary independence of the judiciary and calls into question whether judges will apply the laws of the commonwealth through a fair and just scope.