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Editorial: Keep Justice Roush on the high court

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Justice Jane Marum Roush

When the 2016 General Assembly convenes tomorrow in Richmond, its agenda will include the election of a justice to the Supreme Court of Virginia.

When it tackles that task, the Assembly should elect Justice Jane Marum Roush to a full term.

Roush’s appointment to the high court by Gov. Terry McAuliffe last August should have been routine. But the governor failed to run his pick by the Republican leaders in the legislature, House Speaker Bill Howell and Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment.

Offended at the perceived snub, they responded by saying that Judge Rossie Alston of the appeals court should get the seat instead of Roush. In a moment of high drama during the Assembly’s special session last summer, the Alston bid failed and Roush has continued to serve.

As the 2016 session gets under way, it would be helpful if both sides in this judicial street fight retired to their respective corners, took a deep breath and consider with clear eyes the long-term impact of this brouhaha on the courts and on our system of justice.

Points to consider:

Roush’s credentials are impeccable. Roush served 22 years with distinction on the Fairfax Circuit Court – her judicial demeanor and ability made her one of the go-to judges when the high court needed a judge to preside over a complex or high-profile case. She knows the law and the Supreme Court’s ways: for 15 years, she delivered the annual review of the Supreme Court’s cases for the Virginia Bar Association. She is highly respected – truly the type of judge one wants to see on the high court. The complaints from Howell and Norment have never been about the quality of Roush’s selection; in fact, they have acknowledged  her expertise and experience.

The Supreme Court should be above politics. In a day and age when the public is cynical about the justice system, citizens of this commonwealth need reassurance that their highest court is nonpartisan. Since our judges and justices in Virginia are elected by the legislature, politics no doubt plays a role. But once on the bench, justices put their own political views on the shelf. For an example, look at recently retired Chief Justice Cynthia D. Kinser and current Justice William C. Mims. Both held elected office as Republicans. You’d never know it from their work on the Supreme Court.

History: looking backward. The last time that a gubernatorial appointment to the Supreme Court of Virginia was pushed aside by the legislature was in 1901. Since then, 31 justices have been named by a governor, then faced the legislature for election. In all 31 on those instances, the Assembly let the governor’s choice remain on the court. And those elections have included a Republican Assembly passing on a Democratic governor’s nominee and vice versa.

History: looking ahead. History and precedent are important in a state that has more than 400 years to look back on. Assume that the governor’s failure to pick up the phone was gross political malpractice. Assume that the response of the Speaker and the Senate Majority Leader, who are both lawyers, was petty, mean and childish. How small will the GOP leaders look years from now if they follow through on their threat to unseat Roush? And how incompetent will McAuliffe look if he doesn’t work – and work hard — to save a stellar judge who left a safe job not knowing he hadn’t done his homework?

Someone, one hopes on both sides, needs to recognize this threat to the stability and prestige of the Supreme Court of Virginia, and pull all parties back from the ledge.

And then the Assembly needs to give Justice Jane Roush a full term on the high court.

5 comments

  1. Excellent! Short, sweet and to the point on an extremely important matter. The Commonwealth is better because of people like Justice Roush and we as Virginians should appreciate her hard work and sacrifice for Virginia. She deserves a full term and more.

  2. Whatever the outcome, our sympathies should lie with the two distinguished jurists who, through no fault of their own, have been thrust into the spotlight of this embarrassing political standoff. They deserve better. Justice Roush is eminently well qualified to be and remain on the Court. Judge Alston is similarly well credentialed. However, if Judge Roush is not elected to a full term, and Judge Alston is given her seat, each will be stigmatized – one a loser, one a winner of the political lottery, and ultimately it will be the Supreme Court which loses, branded as just another political playground!

    Robert T. Hall

  3. I disagree with Bob Hall to this extent: Judge Alston is not involved in this “through no fault of his own.” At a minimum, he had to consent to have his name put forward in the first instance, and again this session. It is disappointing that he apparently seeks to further his own career at the expense of Justice Roush’s. As I argued in a letter to VLW in August, he should stand aside and support her election. That would be the right and decent thing to do.

  4. Thanks for an excellent editorial, Paul. Who would have thought two lawyers would lead this effort to remove a truly great jurist from our Supreme Court. The damage this will do to our Judiciary cannot be overstated. Remove this distinguished Justice from the court for some perceived lack of respect from the Governor? What happened to respect for our Judiciary, for our traditions, for doing the right thing? Removal of a Supreme Court Justice for reasons that have nothing to with her, only disgraces those who take this action. Both the Governor and the two leaders should end this childish dispute and dedicate their efforts to solving the problems facing Virginia, not creating more and long lasting problems. There is still time to avoid this and to act responsibility.
    Irv Blank

  5. John A. Bruno, Jr., M.D.

    I have had the pleasure of being in court with both judges. After 40 years of occasionally testifying as a medical expert (‘offense’ and defense), my opinion is these judges are above the norm. My personal medical opinion is in favor of Judge Roush. Oy day, if she stays Judge Alston is going to hold me in contempt!

    All of the above presented as a morality play – you damn politicians suck!

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