Virginia lawmakers OK McCullough for Supreme Court justice

RICHMOND — Republican lawmakers approved elevating Court of Appeals Judge Stephen McCullough to the Virginia Supreme Court on Thursday, defeating Gov. Terry McAuliffe in a lengthy political battle over whether the Democrat’s high court appointee belongs on the bench.

McCullough’s election as lawmakers raced to finish their work for the year means Jane Marum Roush will not retain her Supreme Court seat, infuriating McAuliffe and Democratic lawmakers, who accused Republicans of playing politics with the bench.

“I’m disgusted by the whole process,” McAuliffe told reporters Thursday. “We had a very qualified woman. … And they treated her like dirt and they kicked her to the curb. We shouldn’t treat anyone like that.”

In Virginia, governors can temporarily appoint judges and justices when lawmakers aren’t in session. But the final authority for electing judges rests with the General Assembly. McAuliffe initially appointed Roush to fill the vacancy last summer, but Republicans refused to go along with it because they said the governor didn’t consult with them beforehand.

Republican leaders initially sought to put Court of Appeals Judge Rossie Alston on the bench. But they failed to get enough support for Alston, so they put McCullough’s nomination forward Wednesday after briefly considering former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli for the court. Cuccinelli said he wasn’t interested in the job.

Across the two legislative bodies, only one Democrat — Del. Luke Torian — supported McCullough’s election. The rest of the Democrats did not cast votes, saying they objected to the way the situation was handled.

“This is no way to pick a Supreme Court justice,” said Democratic Del. Rip Sullivan. “Our General Assembly, our Commonwealth and our court are diminished as a result.”

Roush said in a statement that she’s disappointed she won’t be able to continue her “commitment to public service” as a Supreme Court justice.

Prior to being elected to the Court of Appeals in 2011, McCullough worked in the Virginia attorney general’s office for more than 10 years. He told lawmakers Wednesday that his view of the Constitution closely aligns with that of late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Republicans didn’t disagree that Roush was qualified for the bench. But they said McAuliffe breached protocol by not giving them a heads up before appointing her last summer. On Thursday, they praised McCullough as a highly qualified candidate and accused McAuliffe of trying to usurp their constitutional authority to elect a Supreme Court justice.

“To protect our rights and liberties, we must elect judges who will adhere to the Constitution and apply the law as written,” Republican Sen. Mark Obenshain, chairman of the Senate Courts committee, said in a statement. “Judge McCullough has already demonstrated he is a principled jurist of outstanding character. We are fortunate to have him on the Supreme Court.”

Associated Press writer Alan Suderman contributed to this report.

 

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