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Judgeships hung up over appeals court choice

Is Virginia ever going to get two new Supreme Court justices?

Here is where we stand, as of our report (log-in required) last month:

There are two seats open, due to the retirement of Justice Lawrence Koontz and the death of Justice Leroy Hassell.

Republicans in the House want Appeals Court Judge Elizabeth McClanahan to fill one seat. Senate Democrats want Judge Cleo Powell, also of the appeals court, to fill the other. Both sides are OK with that.

It’s the two new resulting vacancies on the appellate court that are the problem. The GOP wants Stephen McCullough of the Attorney General’s office for one seat and Virginia Beach lawyer Glen Huff for the other. The Democrats want Judge Ken Melvin, who formerly served as a delegate, for one seat.

The Assembly is back in Richmond to work on congressional districting. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Republicans in the House and Democrats in the Senate are at a stalemate over that issue. The GOPers want to keep things basically the way they are, in a move that would protect the state’s current incumbents (8 Rs and 3 Ds). The Dems want a plan that would make it easer for a Democrat to win in the 4th District, currently held by Rep. Randy Forbes.

The judgeships are no closer to resolution, reports the T-D. The GOP says that since it controls the House and the Governor’s office, it should name those new appeals court judges. The Senate Democrats, not surprisingly, have balked.

The Washington Post likewise reports the two sides are at loggerheads, but its story adds a little spice. The Democrats’ choice, Melvin, a former delegate, is too sympathetic to defendants, according to “law and order” Republicans. On the other hand, the Dems reject McCullough because he has no judicial experience.

The appointments fall to Gov. Bob McDonnell if there is no action while the Assembly is in session, a result neither side says it wants to see.

- Paul Fletcher

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