To the Editor:
I am a lawyer of over 40 years in practice, and over eight years’ service on the committee of the Virginia State Bar that screens and rates candidates for statewide and federal judgeships in the commonwealth. Over the past several years I have watched with growing dismay as members and the leadership of the General Assembly have engaged in political gamesmanship and patronage with judgeships, with scant (if any) consideration of the best interests of the commonwealth, or of public confidence in the judiciary — not to mention the effects on the lives of the individual judges and candidates involved. Eleventh-hour appearances and subsequent selection of unvetted candidates, who happen to be associates of or contributors to a powerful legislator (in one recent instance, Speaker William Howell’s law-school roommate) has become a commonplace.
But all of this shameful maneuvering pales in comparison to the Republican leadership’s latest outrage: the intended unseating of an eminently qualified sitting justice of the Supreme Court, apparently purely out of pique that the governor failed to consult with them and, pointedly, in no way related to the qualifications of the jurist they propose to supplant with their own candidate. Indeed, there is near-universal agreement that Justice Jane Marum Roush is extraordinarily well-qualified, as confirmed by her frequent selection over the past several years by the Supreme Court to hear complex and controversial cases from which local judges have recused themselves, and her stellar handling of those cases.
The Republicans’ action is aggravated by the fact that they delayed in announcing their intentions until Justice Roush had resigned her seat on the Fairfax Circuit Court, two years before her term expired, and been administered the oath and taken a seat on the Supreme Court. If they go through with this she will be without a job, simply because she accepted the governor’s call to higher public service.
That the legislature is within its constitutional rights in doing this is beside the point. This naked abuse of power is inexcusable, as is the indecent treatment of a judge who has devoted almost her entire adult life to the service of the Commonwealth, and done so with undisputed distinction. Perhaps worst of all, these political power trips risk eroding the public’s confidence in the judiciary — a fragile commodity without which the system cannot function.
Judge Rossie Alston is a fine jurist and a man of principle and decency. As such, he should decline this appointment and throw his support to Justice Roush. One of the players here has to do the right thing, and we would be foolish to expect that to be the Republican leadership of the General Assembly.
Joseph A. Condo