Partisan Battle Shaping Up Over Judicial Picks
Friday, February 8, 2008
RICHMOND, Feb. 7 -- The Republican-controlled Virginia House and Democrat-controlled Senate are locked in a battle over which party should pick replacements for open statewide judgeships.
A showdown is looming for Friday, when the chambers, which are being run by different parties for the first time since Reconstruction, must confirm two judges appointed by the governor, or the nominees will lose the posts. It would be the first major disagreement between the chambers since the legislative session began in January.
"I hope it doesn't come to that," said Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath), a member of the Senate Courts of Justice Committee. "Too often, politics plays too big of a role in what is supposed to be a nonpolitical function."
Before the legislative session started, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) appointed S. Bernard Goodwyn to the state Supreme Court. Goodwyn is the second African American to be named to the high court. Kaine picked former Prince William County Circuit Court Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. for a spot on the Court of Appeals, the state's second-highest court. Millette oversaw the trial of Washington area sniper John Allen Muhammad.
The judges have begun serving, although they must be confirmed by the House and Senate by midnight Friday. If they aren't, Kaine can re-appoint them, but not until after the legislature adjourns, which is scheduled for March 8.
Republicans are threatening to fail to confirm Kaine's picks unless they can fill the two other openings for judges with their choices. One spot each is open on the State Corporation Commission and the Workers' Compensation Commission.
"We're not going to get run over by the governor or the Senate," said Del. Terry G. Kilgore (R-Scott), a member of the House Courts of Justice Committee.
But House Minority Leader Ward L. Armstrong (D-Henry) said Republicans are "playing political games with people's lives."
Negotiations are largely taking place behind closed doors between Senate and House leaders and members of the Courts of Justice committees, which consider judicial nominees.
On Thursday afternoon, House Republicans and Senate Democrats met separately to discuss nominees for the four positions. The chambers are floating names but have not officially sent each other any.
For the State Corporation Commission, Democrats favor former Democratic delegate Barnie K. Day of Patrick County. Republicans are leaning toward Bernie McNamee, a lawyer and lobbyist from Richmond. Legislators have not settled on picks for the Workers' Compensation Commission.
"Kaine is a Democrat. So the people who he put on the bench are philosophically associated with him," said Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax), chairman of the House Courts of Justice Committee. "We believe that we should have people that are philosophically associated with us who are judges."