Virginia Supreme Court nominee Jane Marum Roush, right, answers a question during a news conference in July in Richmond, while Del. David B. Albo (R) Gov.Terry McAuliffe (D), center, look on. (Bob Brown/Associated Press)

VIRGINIA STATE Sen. Glen Sturtevant, a Republican elected just two months ago, is unversed in Richmond’s arcane ways. How else to explain his failure to heed the legislature’s mindless partisanship?

Mr. Sturtevant, who represents a portion of Richmond and points west, has incited the fury of the General Assembly’s Republican leadership, and blown up the opening days of this year’s legislative session, by doing something decent. He has refused to go along with the GOP’s plan to remove and replace a sitting justice of Virginia’s Supreme Court, Jane Marum Roush, whose qualifications, competence and integrity were unquestioned when she received a recess appointment over the summer from Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D).

Never in modern times has a sitting justice on the state’s highest court been replaced in such fashion. In fact, Virginia governors of both parties have made at least 31 recess appointments to the court; all of them have been elected by the General Assembly.

However, Republican House Speaker William J. Howell (Stafford) decided to pick a fight in the case of Ms. Roush, a veteran judge on the Fairfax Circuit Court who presided over the trial of sniper Lee Boyd Malvo. Ostensibly, the speaker was irked that Mr. McAuliffe had not consulted Republicans, even though it was a Republican — Del. David B. Albo (Fairfax), who chairs the House of Delegates’s Courts of Justice Committee — who suggested Ms. Roush’s appointment.

The real issue is that old-boy GOP insiders such as Mr. Howell cannot abide Mr. McAuliffe, a Bill-and-Hillary-Clinton loyalist whom the GOP regards as a modern-day carpetbagger. Spoiling for a fight, Mr. Howell tried to replace Ms. Roush during a special legislative session in August, in favor of a GOP-preferred candidate. But the plan was derailed by a single Republican moderate, Sen. John C. Watkins of Powhatan, who was retiring. In the process, Ms. Roush’s appointment expired, but Mr. McAuliffe gave her a second recess appointment.

Now comes Mr. Sturtevant, who won Mr. Watkins’s former Senate seat in the fall. He has no affection for Mr. McAuliffe, who fought to see him defeated. However, Mr. Sturtevant, a lawyer, seems to possess a sense of right and wrong, as well as a conviction that replacing Ms. Roush would amount to intolerable interference with the judiciary — something he promised as a candidate not to abide. “Politicization of the entire process is not good for the court, it’s not good for the General Assembly, it’s not good for Virginia,” he said. His defection robs the GOP of sufficient votes in the Senate and has frozen its efforts to replace Ms. Rousch.

Mr. Sturtevant is now persona non grata with Mr. Howell and the GOP. Good for Mr. Sturtevant.