Bad news, Virginia: The boys are back in town.
The latest move to come out of a male-dominated state legislature that once wanted to vaginally probe women seeking abortions is as boys-club as it gets.
It starts with an accomplished and respected judge, Justice Jane Marum Roush. This is the woman who masterfully managed a Beltway sniper trial, whose 22-year judicial record in Fairfax County is straight down the middle and who came recommended by a Republican.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) appointed her to the state Supreme Court this summer to fill a vacancy, when the legislature was out of session. Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax) had recommended her.
This happens. It’s happened before. And usually — at least, as far as the past 100 years go — the legislature approves a judge for a 12-year-term once it is back in session.
But this time, the House of Delegates decided to pick a fight and refused to let Roush stay.
Last month, House Republicans refused to make her temporary appointment permanent and said they will do the same with the second temporary appointment McAuliffe announced this week.
Why is this so bad?
Because it’s a ruthless partisan play, a potshot at McAuliffe that could wind up taking down a highly qualified woman. The Washington Post’s Laura Vozzella has chronicled the infighting that this battle has created in a legislature that is just 17 percent female. Yes, you read that right: In Virginia, 24 of 140 lawmakers are women.
According to Sen. Janet D. Howell (D-Fairfax), the Republicans going after Roush are being complete jerks.
“Their objections came at the last minute and on the fly,” she told The Post last month. “They had no process. They did no interviews. They posted no advertisements. They didn’t involve the public. They didn’t request input from all members of the General Assembly. It isn’t even clear if they considered all of their own caucus. . . . The majority party refused to interview a sitting justice for her own position.”
No one can come up with any good reason to oust Roush. When you finally have another woman on the bench (thanks to Roush, there are now three, in a squad of seven), and you decide to kick her out for no good reason, it doesn’t speak to common sense or fairness.
“It’s because we’re not in the backrooms yet,” said Penny J. White, a law professor at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. She knows something about this, having served on the Tennessee State Supreme Court. “When those backroom deals are made, it’s mostly men making those decisions.”
You’ll see a few women in those stern portraits of esteemed state justices across the land.
A couple of pearl earrings here and maybe a bold, doily collar there among all those black judicial robes.
Women are 51 percent of the population but occupy only 29 percent of the seats in the highest courts across the country, according to the National Association for Women Judges.
A few states have many women serving on their high courts. California and, interestingly, Tennessee have women in the majority.
But in most states, men dominate the judiciary. A handful of states did not have a woman on the bench until this century.
It’s much better than it was a decade ago, White said, and far, far better than it was in the 1990s. With women making up 45 to 55 percent of most law school classes, more female judges will inevitably be appointed.
“But what continues to happen — with Virginia being the present case in point — is that politics interfere with quality-based appointments in a number of different ways,” she said. “With male-dominated legislatures, and with women being few in number and having fewer natural allies historically in the behind-the-scenes political dealmaking, qualified women jurists face higher hurdles than their male counterparts.”
In addition to the state’s having a less diverse bench, the roadkill in all this political maneuvering would be Roush. She loses big time if she gave up her seat in Fairfax only to have her Supreme Court appointment killed because the boys couldn’t play nice in the backroom. And Virginia residents, who deserve a Supreme Court that reflects the state’s population, will lose big time, too.
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