President Trump has nominated Rossie D. Alston Jr. to be a district court judge in the Eastern District of Virginia, moving to fill a vacancy created in November when judge Gerald Bruce Lee retired.
Three years ago, Alston, who sits on the Court of Appeals of Virginia, was ensnared in a political battle in the Virginia legislature. Republicans refused to confirm then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s choice for a state Supreme Court seat, putting Alston forward instead. Ultimately, the post went to another Republican pick.
But now Alston is the bipartisan choice: He was recommended by Virginia’s two senators, both Democrats.
“We are pleased that the President has nominated Judge Alston to the vacancy and are confident his experiences on the state bench will serve him well at the federal level,” Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark R. Warner said in a statement.
Alston still must appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee and be confirmed by the full Senate.
Trump has said he wants to stack the federal courts with strict constitutionalists early in their careers. Alston is 61 and, while conservative, is not known as an ideological firebrand.
He worked at the National Labor Relations Board under President Ronald Reagan and for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which opposes the ability of labor unions to require dues.
In 2016, he wrote a decision arguing that “cohabitation” in Virginia law did not apply to same-sex couples; it was overturned by the state Supreme Court. Recently he was on a panel that upheld a woman’s conviction for concealing a body after she disposed of the remains of her stillborn child.
But at one point during the state Supreme Court nomination fight, he suggested he was out of step with Republicans on their stance that businesses should be able to turn away lesbian, gay or transgender customers for religious reasons.
“There is no reason whatsoever why any person in the United States of America should be denied equal privileges that we all enjoy under the law,” Alston said.
Caitlin Vogus, who was a clerk for Alston on the state Court of Appeals and now works for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, described Alston as careful and thorough.
“His philosophy was kind of straightforward — apply the law as he saw it,” she said. “He just wanted to reach the result that was fair and the result that was compelled by precedent.”
As a trial court judge, however, Alston had a reputation for sometimes crafting unusual sentences that he felt best fit a crime. A former Virginia state trooper who dropped drunken driving charges against a woman in exchange for sex had to perform 3,500 hours of community service and spend two days in jail every January for seven years, as well as write a public apology and get sex-addiction treatment. A father of 13 who inadvertently let his youngest daughter die in the family’s van had to spend one day in jail for seven years, volunteer for two hours each week and sponsor an annual blood drive in the girl’s name.