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State Supreme Court vacancies remain unfilled during political standoff

The Supreme Court of Virginia in Richmond, Va.
The Supreme Court of Virginia in Richmond, Va.(Parker Michels-Boyce/ For The Virginia Mercury)
Published: May. 9, 2022 at 6:14 AM EDT
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Two vacant seats in the Virginia Supreme Court hang in the balance in the political standoff in the Virginia Assembly.

State lawmakers said in interviews this week that their negotiations over the justices continue but indicated they are no closer to resolution.

“We do not have an agreement on how to proceed with the Senate,” Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, chair of the House Courts of Justice committee, told the Mercury. Bell declined to comment further on the specifics of the negotiations.

At issue are two of the seven seats in the state Supreme Court. The two seats opened in the last year after Chief Justice Donald Lemons and  Justice William Mims announced their retirements.

Selecting justices is a constitutional duty of the General Assembly, which elects the justices by a majority vote. Once elected, a justice can serve for a 12-year term. In recent history, Republican legislatures have elected justices as a matter of course. But this year, the appointments are one of many political deadlocks in the current divided legislature.

“We’ve been talking about this since January but there are a couple of things that get hung up in it,” Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, co-chair of the Senate judiciary committee, told the Mercury.

Deeds said the “obvious solution” would be to give House Republicans one choice and Senate Democrats another choice. But even if they could agree on those appointments, there are other cascading effects, like if a justice is elevated from the appeals court and has to be replaced.

“The solutions are within grasp, we are still talking, still being civil with one another, but the discussions continue,” Deeds said.  “And right now I don’t know if there is anything we can do to force the situation ahead.”

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.(Virginia Mercury)

The Virginia Mercury is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.

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