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Cuccinelli out as Supreme Court nominee

McCullough_Stephen-edit(AP) Former Virginia Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli withdrew his name for consideration for the state Supreme Court on Wednesday as Republican lawmakers said they’d settled on a replacement candidate to fill a vacancy on the high court.

The apparent GOP choice is Court of Appeals Judge Stephen R. McCullough (left).

The actions appear to have brought to an end a months-long political feud between Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe and GOP lawmakers over who should be the high court’s next justice.

The battle reached a fever pitch this week, when Republicans moved to put Cuccinelli on the court after their initial pick was rebuffed by Democrats and a lone Republican senator. The possibility of Cuccinelli’s selection infuriated liberal groups, who have long accused him of using the attorney general’s office to promote an ultra-conservative agenda. Cuccinelli’s tea party populism also concerned some members of the state’s business community.

But Republican flirtation with Cuccinelli lasted less than a day, as the former attorney general let GOP lawmakers know Wednesday afternoon he was not interested in the job. Cuccinelli did not immediately return an email seeking comment, but GOP Senate Caucus Chairman Sen. Ryan McDougle said Cuccinelli decided that accepting the position would not be best for his family.

Cuccinelli has kept a high profile since running unsuccessfully against McAuliffe in 2013. He’s currently a top campaign surrogate to GOP presidential hopeful Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and has led a U.S. Senate-focused conservative political action committee.

Republicans said they hope to finalize the selection of McCullough for the vacancy by Thursday. McCullough was elected to the Court of Appeals in 2011 and served in the attorney general’s office before that.

McCullough said Wednesday he was notified that he was being considered for the job several days ago. He told lawmakers he had enormous respect for the high court.

“I really came to treasure the heritage we have in Virginia — which I don’t think any other state can compete with — of our declaration of rights and this constitutional heritage of freedom,” McCullough said.

The dispute over the high court vacancy began last summer, when McAuliffe appointed then-Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Jane Marum Roush to fill a vacancy. In Virginia, governors can temporarily appoint judges and justices, but the General Assembly has the final say in whether to elect them to full terms. GOP leaders, irked that McAuliffe did not consult with them before selecting Roush, refused to elect her. Instead, they tried to elect Court of Appeals Judge Rossie Alston.

Republicans control both chambers of the General Assembly but were unable to get Alston elected because of GOP dissenters in the Senate, who thought Roush should not be removed over a political squabble. Former Sen. John Watkins blocked Alston’s election last year. His successor, Sen. Glen Sturtevant, did so this year. Although he did not vote for Alston, Sturtevant has said he is open to a third option, paving the way for an easy election for McCullough.

Liberal groups like Planned Parenthood and the League of Conservation Voters, which had organized protests at the Capitol on Wednesday, reacted with joy after it became clear Cuccinelli was not going to be put on the state Supreme Court.

“Ken Cuccinelli isn’t qualified to be dog catcher, and it is a victory for Virginia families that he will not sit on our state’s highest court,” said Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia, a liberal advocacy group.

— ALAN SUDERMAN, ALANNA DURKIN RICHER, Associated Press

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