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McCullough takes seat on high court

Justice Stephen R. McCullough was invested as the 106th member of the Supreme Court of Virginia on May 23, at a ceremony featuring his family, his colleagues from the Court of Appeals and past co-workers at the Virginia Attorney General’s office.

McCullough was tapped for the seat at the end of the 2016 General Assembly session, ending an acrimonious stand-off between Gov. Terry McAuliffe and GOP legislative leaders.

Photo by Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Justice Stephen R. McCullough (right) at his investiture at the Supreme Court of Virginia. (Photo by Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch)

The governor had appointed Fairfax Circuit Judge Jane Marum Roush to an open seat in August, only to run headlong into GOP leaders who complained they had not been consulted. They sought to elevate Appeals Court Judge Rossie D. Alston Jr.

Roush served until March, when her appointment from the governor ran out and the legislature did not give her the seat. It was the first time since 1901 that a justice appointed mid-term by the governor, either Republican or Democrat, did not get a full term.

McCullough had been a judge on the appeals court since 2011, going on the bench after serving as solicitor general under Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.

At the outset of the investiture ceremony, Chief Justice Donald W. Lemons joked that it hadn’t been that long since his investiture on the intermediate court, and that they might make a rule that if you “have two within five years, you have to pay for [the second ceremony] yourself.”

McCullough had asked three people to make remarks.

Sen. Bryce E. Reeves, R-Fredericksburg, noted that he might now be called “Justice McCullough,” but to the kids at the Boys and Girls Club in Fredericksburg, he will always be “Mr. Steve.” McCullough has been very active with that group and other community organizations.

Appeals Court Judge Wesley G. Russell Jr. noted that McCullough and he had worked together in the AG’s office and when Russell was tapped for the appeals court, McCullough was named his mentor.

Another former colleague from AG service, Appeals Court Judge Marla Graff Decker, lauded the new justice as a “servant-leader who gives generously of his time.”

McCullough, she said, never turned down an opportunity “to teach, to mentor or to improve others.”

Lemons administered the oath to the new justice as he stood with his wife Amy at his side and held his 2-year-old, Andrew.

McCullough served as a clerk for Chief Justice Leroy Rountree Hassell Sr. after his graduation from the University of Richmond law school, and after taking his seat on the bench, he hailed his former boss and others who came before by quoting Sir Isaac Newton: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

He said that one of the many reasons to give thanks that day was that “we live in a society devoted to the rule of law.”

That precept, he said, is “the cornerstone of our political stability.”

McCullough’s election may start the beginning of the next generation of justices on the Virginia high court.

At 44, he is 10 years younger than the next youngest member, Justice D. Arthur Kelsey.

There are five justices between the ages of 59 and 54; Lemons is 67.