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State of Virginia

Judicial Selection in the States: Virginia

Overview

Virginia, home of the oldest legislative body in the Western Hemisphere and the mother of presidents, has a flawed process for selecting judges. Virginia is...

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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The Virginia judiciary is composed of the supreme court, the court of appeals, the circuit court, and the district court. The district court is a court of limited jurisdiction. Virginia is one of only two states whose legislature is responsible for selecting its judges.

For several decades prior to 1995, Democrats controlled the general assembly and the selection of judges. Democrats met in closed-door caucuses to select candidates who were later rubber-stamped by the Democratic majority in the house of delegates and the senate. The general assembly elections of 1995 brought a 20-20 split in the senate and a change in senate rules for selecting judges. The authority to recommend judges shifted to local legislative delegations, establishing a form of senatorial courtesy. Senators representing the judicial district in which the vacancy occurred recommended nominees. If these senators were in agreement, the full senate followed their recommendation. If they didn't agree, other candidates were nominated and debated on the senate floor.

In 1999, for the first time in more than 100 years, Republicans gained a majority in both the house and the senate. The Republican majority established a joint judicial advisory committee to review and evaluate candidates for vacancies on the supreme court and court of appeals and to advise the general assembly on their qualifications. Many Republican legislators also set up local citizen commissions to screen nominees for circuit and district court judgeships.