RICHMOND — Former Virginia governor L. Douglas Wilder on Wednesday blasted Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s handling of an appointment to the state’s Supreme Court, saying his fellow Democrat had made political missteps that hurt him with Republican legislative leaders and black voters.
Wilder said McAuliffe failed to follow basic Richmond protocol by not running his pick by House and Senate leaders. He also dismissed as “silly” McAuliffe’s claims that the GOP was bucking his nominee because she is a woman. And he said McAuliffe had offended African Americans by choosing a white circuit court judge over a black jurist on the state’s appeals court — a perceived snub that he said would hurt McAuliffe’s friend Hillary Rodham Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.
“McAuliffe being the majordomo for the Clinton campaign in Virginia, this doesn’t help her,” Wilder said. “Some of us are not going to forget it. . . . The real question is, who in the hell was advising the governor?”
Wilder made the remarks during an interview with The Washington Post about an upcoming special session of the General Assembly, during which Republicans plan to take the rare step of removing a sitting Supreme Court justice.
The nation’s first elected black governor when he took office in 1990, Wilder has an independent streak, having bucked his party on more than a few occasions. He had been publicly uncertain about whether to endorse McAuliffe in 2013, withholding his coveted nod until a month before Election Day. But even given Wilder’s outspoken ways, this criticism was surprisingly sharp.
McAuliffe spokeswoman Christina Nuckols declined to comment.
McAuliffe has ordered legislators back to Richmond starting Monday to draw a new congressional map, something a federal court has ordered them to do by Sept. 1. The Republican-led House and Senate plan to use the session to unseat former Fairfax Circuit Court judge Jane Marum Roush, whom McAuliffe appointed to the Supreme Court in July.
The General Assembly normally makes judicial appointments. The governor may fill vacancies when the legislature is not in session, which McAuliffe did when he installed Roush July 27. Such appointments, however, expire 30 days after the legislature convenes.
Republicans said they will unseat the justice — something that last happened in Virginia in 1900 — and elect Virginia Court of Appeals Judge Rossie D. Alston Jr. to the slot.
GOP legislators have said they have no beef with Roush, a well-regarded jurist who has presided over high-profile cases including the trial of D.C. sniper Lee Boyd Malvo. But they note that judicial appointments are theirs to make and that they prefer Alston, who has served on the Court of Appeals since 2009 and was previously Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court judge for Prince William County and chief judge of the Prince William Circuit Court. They also complained that McAuliffe did not confer with House or Senate leaders before making his nomination.
McAuliffe’s choice has the support of the legislative black caucus. The governor has accused Republicans of throwing a “political temper tantrum” and suggested that opposition led by House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) and Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment (R-James City) was rooted in sexism.
The Democratic Party of Virginia compared their plan to unseat Roush to remarks GOP presidential hopeful Donald Trump recently made about Fox News’ Megyn Kelly and her menstrual cycle.
“Donald Trump’s recent offensive comments were outrageous — but not any more outrageous than Virginia Republicans’ latest front in their war on women,” the party said in a news release this week.
Wilder called that strategy “silly” and counterproductive.
“You’re not going to brow-beat [Republicans] into doing anything by calling them names,” Wilder said. “That’s absolutely silly. It’s not an issue as to whether a woman is on the bench. The issue is whether you observed the protocol. And you didn’t. That’s all there is to it.”