President Trump plans to nominate to the federal bench in Virginia a state appeals court judge who was blocked by Democrats from a seat on the state Supreme Court, the judge’s chambers confirmed.
Judge Rossie D. Alston Jr., 60, if formally nominated and confirmed, would replace U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee, who retired in the fall.
He would be Trump’s second African American nominee to the federal bench. State Sen. Bryce E. Reeves (R-Spotsylvania) announced the news from the floor of the state Senate on Friday morning.
“Judge Alston is very honored and humbled by this announcement and thanks the President and the two Virginia Senators for their endorsements,” his judicial assistant, Meggie Holson, said in an email.
In 2015, Republicans in the Virginia legislature attempted to elevate Alston to the state Supreme Court, to block then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D)’s choice for the bench. After a standoff with Democrats that lasted nine months, Republicans chose another candidate.
That scuffle did not appear to hurt Alston’s standing with Virginia’s two Democratic U.S. senators; he was one of two candidates they recommended to the White House for Lee’s seat. The other was Patricia Giles, an assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District.
Alston attended Averett College, now a university, and North Carolina Central University’s School of Law. He worked at the National Labor Relations Board under President Ronald Reagan and then at the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. He spent several years as a private attorney before his nomination to the bench in Prince William County, first as a juvenile and domestic relations court judge and then as a Circuit Court judge. He joined the state Court of Appeals in 2009.
“He’s extremely competent at what he does. He knows the law well,” said Sally Hook Merchak, who hired Alston as an intern early in his career and has since appeared before him many times. “He thoroughly enjoys being on the bench and a good legal argument.”
Alston is also an active member of Good Shepherd United Methodist Church of Dale City, Va., and a youth football coach.
Paul Nichols, an attorney who has known Alston since the 1990s, said he has long admired the judge.
“He’s always a fair-minded person with a big heart, always trying to come up with a sensible resolution,” Nichols said. “He doesn’t curse. He doesn’t step out of line. He has no real vices except for maybe a little extra golfing.”
Nichols said Alston was tough on violent criminals and those he thought had squandered second chances: “If you deserve the hammer, you’re getting the hammer.”
But Alston is compassionate, he said, citing a difficult case involving a man whose 21-month-old child died in a sweltering van. A jury recommended a one-year prison sentence. Alston instead ordered the father to spend a day in jail for seven years on the anniversary of his daughter’s death and run an annual blood drive in her name.
Alston told The Post in 2007 that he prayed on that decision and many others.
“I’m not ashamed to say it,” Alston said. “There is not a day that goes by that I don’t say a prayer about some case I’m doing.”