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Posted at 03:45 PM ET, 01/24/2012

Virginia Senate at standstill as partisan battle over judges halts work

Update: Read the lastest developments in today’s story on the Senate standoff.

Update, 3:45 p.m.:

The House and Senate found a way out of the impasse, at least for the next few days. Both chambers postponed action until Thursday, when
As Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) enters the Senate Chambers he greets Sen. A. Donald McEachin-D-Richmond (L) and Sen. Ralph S. Northam-D-Norfolk (C)on Jan. 11. (Tracy A. Woodward - The Washington Post)
they will once again reconsider a resolution for judicial appointments.

Original post:

A partisan battle over judicial appointments left the Virginia Senate at a standstill Tuesday, with members prevented by procedural rules from voting on any legislation or even conducting committee meetings until the matter is resolved.

“We cannot proceed with any further business at any time — tomorrow, next week, next month,” said Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R), who presides over the Senate.

Republicans and Democrats each blamed the other party for the impasse, with both sides calling the other “obstructionists” in impassioned floor speeches.

It was just the sort of deadlock political observers had feared when the Senate split evenly, with 20 Republicans and 20 Democrats, in November’s elections. The legislative dysfunction and heated rhetoric have emerged at a time when Democrats are still angry with the GOP, which used Bolling’s disputed authority to break tie votes on organizational matters to take control of crucial Senate committee this month. Democrats had sought a power-sharing agreement.

Democrats, who still have sway over judicial appointments because Bolling cannot vote on them, said they were not merely flaunting what power they still have. Republicans, however, accused them of doing just that.

“I hate to use the term partisan political extortion,” said Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment (R-James City). He said Democrats were demanding that the Senate behave “our way or we are prepared to shut down the operations of the Senate.”

The Senate called a recess until 3 p.m., when it will reconvene and try to resolve the matter.

The judicial appointments take the form of a joint resolution, one that both the House and Senate must pass. The House has passed the first part of the resolution, which formally created judicial vacancies. Until the Senate acts on that joint resolution, both chambers are in limbo and cannot conduct any other business, according to the Senate clerk’s office.

The House had, in fact, continued with the rest of its calendar while awaiting the Senate vote. House leaders initially said they were confused about whether they had the authority to carry on or not. The Senate clerk said that work in the House had to stop. The House eventually called a recess until 3 p.m., but reconvened and continued conducting business.

The House approved a joint resolution that formally created vacancies on dozens of benches across the state. That step must be taken before sitting judges can be reappointed to new terms. The resolution also created two vacancies that would be filled by two new judges, both of whom recently served in the General Assembly: former delegate C. L. “Clay” Athey Jr., a Republican from Warren; and former delegate Clarence E. “Bud” Phillips, a Democrat from Southside.

The impasse centers on Athey and Phillips. Democrats said they do not question their fitness for the bench. But they object to including them in a resolution primarily meant to reappoint sitting judges. They said the two should be considered with new judges later this month or next.

By  |  03:45 PM ET, 01/24/2012

 
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