- The Washington Times - Friday, July 29, 2011

RICHMOND — The Virginia General Assembly finally voted to fill two vacancies on the Virginia Supreme Court on Friday, elevating justices Elizabeth A. McClanahan and Cleo E. Powell from the Court of Appeals to the state’s highest court.

The seven-seat high court had been short two judges after Judge Lawrence Koontz retired in January and Leroy Hassell Sr. died a month later, forcing it to cut back its caseload and rely on a number of semi-retired justices to fill the backlog.

Last week, Gov. Bob McDonnell sent a strongly-worded letter to assembly leaders urging them to take “immediate action” and either appoint judges or adjourn their special session to allow him to make the appointments.

But the Republican governor called Friday an “historic day” for the state to add two women to the Supreme Court, months after the appointment of the state’s first female chief justice — Cynthia B. Kinser.

“I congratulate these newly-elected justices and judges on their election,” he said. “I also thank the General Assembly for taking action to fill these vacancies so that justice can continue to be served in our Commonwealth.”
Justice Powell is also the first black woman elected to the Supreme Court in Virginia.

Virginia, along with South Carolina, is only one of two states that authorizes its legislature to elect judges. The governor can only make appointments when the legislature is not in session, and the General Assembly has to confirm any such appointments.

The process is so charged that justices in recent history have been appointed by the governor more frequently than elected by the General Assembly. Of the five sitting justices, only former Attorney General William C. Mims was elected. Chief Justice Cynthia D. Kinser and Justice Donald W. Lemons were appointed by former Gov. George Allen, a Republican.

Justices S. Bernard Goodwyn and LeRoy F. Millette Jr. were appointed by former Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat.

“I’m glad we were able to work out a compromise,” said Delegate R. Steven Landes, Augusta Republican. “I think the governor’s letter helped work things out sooner rather than later.”

Stephen McCullough, who works in the attorney general’s office, was appointed to the state’s Court of Appeals along with Glen Huff, a Virginia Beach lawyer who practiced with Mr. McDonnell, to replace justices Powell and McClanahan.

The assembly also elected Glenn R. Croshaw, W. Revell Lewis III, and Richard AtLee Jr. to the Circuit Court bench, though there are still vacancies to be filled around the state.

Lawmakers notably did not act on new maps for the state’s 11 congressional districts Friday, as House and Senate conferees remain at loggerheads over competing plans to re-draw the lines as part of the once-a-decade redistricting process based on 2010 U.S. Census data.

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