RICHMOND — The Republican-controlled Virginia House of Delegates on Thursday plans to vote against Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s embattled pick for the state Supreme Court, casting more doubt on the future of the newest justice.
The vote would fulfill a promise GOP delegates made last summer after McAuliffe (D) named Jane Marum Roush, then a Fairfax County Circuit Court judge, to the bench on a temporary basis.
Republicans, miffed that McAuliffe did not coordinate the appointment with GOP leaders, vowed to remove Roush and install their own choice, state Court of Appeals Judge Rossie D. Alston Jr.
But each time they tried to move forward, a rogue moderate Republican senator thwarted his own party’s plan — a reality that could leave the state with a vacancy on its high court. Both chambers must approve a judge’s nomination.
The fight has escalated tensions between McAuliffe and GOP lawmakers, who have accused each other of playing politics with the judicial branch.
House Republicans previously refused to interview Roush but reversed their position in hopes of ending the impasse.
Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) said Tuesday that the House Courts of Justice Committee will interview Roush and Alston on Wednesday afternoon and that a House floor vote will take place Thursday.
Initially concerned about a perceived breach of protocol by the governor, the Republican leadership’s objections now extend to Roush — for publicly lobbying to keep her job and for accepting a second recess appointment from the governor, given that his authority to grant it was in question.
“Since last August, the House has maintained that Judge Alston is the most qualified choice for the current vacancy,” Howell said in a statement. “The House has also been clear in recent weeks that Justice Roush disqualified herself from service on the Court by taking overtly political actions last fall and accepting an unconstitutional appointment from the Governor.”
McAuliffe has repeatedly said the opposition amounts to a “partisan temper tantrum.”
He believes “that a fair hearing for Justice Roush will reveal that she is by far the most qualified candidate to serve on the Virginia Supreme Court, and he hopes that representatives in the House of Delegates will put partisanship aside and act in the best interest of the people of Virginia by keeping this qualified jurist on the bench,” McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy said.
Howell has the votes to replace Roush with Alston, but a lack of unity in the Senate has already caused two false starts when the GOP leadership there tried to remove her from the bench.
Republicans planned to install Alston during a special session called in August to tackle redistricting. But they were foiled by retiring Sen. John C. Watkins (R-Powhatan), who briefly joined forces with Democrats, effectively keeping Roush on the high-court bench.
Then, this month, Watkins’s successor, Sen. Glen H. Sturtevant (R-Richmond), said that Roush should stay on the bench and that judges should be chosen on merit, not politics.
Sturtevant’s support for Roush comes despite the governor’s strenuous efforts against him during the fall elections. Together with a gun-safety group bankrolled by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, McAuliffe had campaigned against the Republican.
On Tuesday, Sturtevant showed no sign of backing down.
When a Senate panel narrowly passed a resolution concurring with the House’s plan to elect a Supreme Court justice on Thursday at the earliest, Sturtevant was the lone Republican to vote against the measure.
Sturtevant’s stance is not enough to keep Roush serving on the high court. Her appointment is set to expire Feb. 12. But he could keep Alston from getting the job.
With the seat open, McAuliffe could give her another recess appointment.
“We are not ready to concede that the General Assembly will not elect the most qualified person for the job,” Coy said. “Given the opportunity, the governor has such a high view of the justice’s service and credentials that he would absolutely appoint her again.”