With the shift in the political makeup of the General Assembly, nine new candidates have emerged for what are now two openings on the Supreme Court of Virginia. Four of the applicants are judges on the Court of Appeals.
When voters gave Republicans a majority in the House of Delegates in November, a House leader called for another round of evaluations of potential high court justices to fill the seat of retiring Justice William C. Mims. Then, in December, Chief Justice Donald W. Lemons announced he would relinquish the chief justice position and let it be known that he would retire as an active justice on Feb. 1.
Lemons’ plan gives legislators two seats to fill on the Supreme Court in the session that started Jan. 12.
As the session began, legislators had not resolved whether the opportunity will allow the Democrat-controlled Senate to name one justice with the Republican House selecting another. Any candidate would require majority approval of both House and Senate to win a 12-year term on the high court.
There are now 24 lawyers and judges hoping for a spot on the Supreme Court. The Virginia State Bar’s Judicial Candidate Evaluation Committee rated 15 candidates in November. The VSB reopened the evaluation process at the request of Del. Terry Kilgore, who became House majority leader on Jan. 12.
Nine additional would-be justices submitted applications by the Jan. 5 deadline, according to VSB Executive Director Karen Gould. Besides the four Court of Appeals judges, two circuit judges, a law professor and two attorneys are in the field.
In alphabetical order, the additional Supreme Court candidates are:
- Court of Appeals Judge Clifford L. Athey Jr., former Republican delegate from Front Royal
- Harrisonburg lawyer Andrew S. Baugher
- Court of Appeals Judge Randolph A. Beales
- Fairfax County Circuit Judge Richard E. Gardiner
- Regent University Law Prof. Michael V. Hernandez
- Pittsylvania County Circuit Judge Stacey Moreau
- Court of Appeals Judge Stuart A. Raphael
- Court of Appeals Judge Wesley G. Russell
- Retired military lawyer and cyber security consultant Walter G. Sharp Jr. of Rockingham
The party caucuses had not yet had time to talk about how the legislature will make its choices, Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax County, said Jan. 17. He said the Democratic caucus made it clear in December that it would not consider any candidate not evaluated by bar groups through the traditional vetting process.
Sen. Joe Morrissey, D-Richmond, said it’s “just logical” that the House could select one justice and the Senate another. But leaders had not talked about any such understanding as of Jan. 17.
“At this point, we haven’t had any of those conversations yet,” said Del. Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville, the new chair of the House Courts Committee.
Although Lemons is retiring from the bench before his term ends, his successor will be elected for a full 12-year term pursuant to Article VI, Section 7 of the Constitution of Virginia.