After a year and a half of delays, Virginia Court of Appeals Judge Rossie D. Alston Jr. is finally about to become a federal judge.
The U.S. Senate confirmed Alston for the seat of retired U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee by a vote of 75-20 on June 10. He will be the only African American judge in the Alexandria federal court.
“I am so very humbled and appreciative of the great trust that has been placed in me by the President and the United States Senate…particularly our two Virginia senators, Senator Warner and Senator Kaine in support of my nomination to the federal bench,” Alston said in an email.
“The Eastern District of Virginia is recognized as the gold standard of the federal judiciary. I have big shoes to fill succeeding my dear friend and mentor Judge Gerald Bruce Lee. I look forward to working with and learning from my new colleagues, Judge Brinkema, Judge O’Grady and Judge Trenga and the Senior Judges of the Eastern District,” Alston continued.
The Senate’s action was welcomed by Democratic Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine.
“We’re pleased that the Senate supported Judge Alston’s nomination for the Eastern District Court of Virginia,” the senators said. “Based on his qualifications, we are confident he will serve with great distinction at the federal level.”
Warner and Kaine recommended Alston in December 2017. Word came in January 2018 that President Trump had nominated Alston, but the actual nomination was not made until last June. Because of Senate delays, the confirmation process had to start over in January after congressional elections. The Judiciary Committee advanced Alston’s nomination in February.
Many other judicial nominees were in the same holding pattern, according to University of Richmond law Prof. Carl Tobias, who closely follows judicial selection. He said Republicans had emphasized vacancies on federal appeals courts, rather than trial courts.
“At one point there were more than 130 district vacancies and there are still 117,” Tobias said. “In short, he had lots of company, there were few criticisms of his nomination and he earned one of the better votes.”
Alston, 62, was elected in 2009 to the Court of Appeals after service in both the circuit and juvenile and domestic relations courts of Prince William County. He spent nine years in private practice in Manassas and served as a commissioner in chancery and substitute judge. Before private practice, he worked for five years with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and for two years as a staff attorney with the National Labor Relations Board. He graduated from Averett University and from the North Carolina Central University law school.
Alston teaches trial practice as an adjunct professor at George Mason University’s law school and is an adjunct undergrad professor of criminology at GMU.
Alston has long served as a high school football official on Friday nights.
Alston became an unwitting political football in 2015 when he agreed to stand for a vacancy on the Supreme Court of Virginia. Republicans advanced Alston as an alternative to Jane Marum Roush, because the GOP balked at her recess appointment to that court by then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
Alston handled tough questions at a contentious committee meeting, but the Assembly later gave the full term bench seat to Justice Stephen R. McCullough.
In other news of federal judgeships, U.S. Magistrate Judge David J. Novak was up for a June 13 vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee on his nomination for a district court seat, Tobias said.
Norfolk U.S. District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith has noted her plan to take senior status as of Aug. 1, according to the website of the U.S. Courts’ Administrative Office.
Updated June 11 to add Alston comments.