Virginia: bill would create judicial nominating commissions; VA one of only two states where legislature elects judges

Virginia is one of only two states (South Carolina is the other) where the legislature alone elects judges; the governor plays no role other than to fill temporary vacancies. Since 1997 South Carolina has made use of a nominating commission to make recommendations to the legislature and now Virginia may be getting its own version.

SB 355 as introduced would create a 15-member Judicial Nominations Commission to help fill vacancies in the state’s appellate courts. The Commission would be chosen by the legislature and each of the state’s 11 congressional districts would be ensured at least 1 seat. No more than 5 of the 15 members could be current or former attorneys. Unlike the South Carolina model which is made up mostly of legislators, the Virginia version would prohibit members of the General Assembly from serving.

The commission would review candidates and release the names of “not more than three persons”. As I have previously noted several states including South Carolina have made numerous efforts to try and raise their existing 3-names restrictions.

At the local level, SB 355 offers two options to fill trial vacancies:

  1. Creation of local judicial nominating committees: Each member of the General Assembly who represents any portion of the Judicial Circuit in question would be allowed to name 2 committee-members. No more than 30% of the committee could be made up of lawyers. As with the appellate version, the list of names would be limited to no more than three. The list of names would be sent to the House and Senate clerks for submission to the legislature.
  2. Local legislators’ option: the local House and Senate members can come up with their own system for finding candidates to fill vacancies, if they can certify that their alternate system “ensures participation of each delegation member and participation by the general public in the nomination process.”

SB 355 has been filed in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee.