Civic Association Newsletter

January/February 1997 - Volume 20, No. 4


The Volunteers for an Independent Arlington (VIA) Coalition's 1997 Legislative Package was presented to the Northern Virginia Delegates and State Senators on January 4, 1997, at the Government Center in Fairfax County, Virginia and to the Arlington Delegation on January 6, 1997, at the Arlington Central Library. Briefly, the VIA Coalition's President Amy Jones-Baskaran described a significant weakness concerning Virginia's judicial nomination process. Currently, legislative appointment of judges is used in only three states, Virginia, South Carolina, and Rhode Island. Also, Amy Jones-Baskaran stated that the VIA Coalition believes this process is a carryover of the old spoils system, long discredited in the country, and believes it is time for Virginia to adopt a new process for appointing judges based on merit and a non-partisan basis.

The VIA Coalition encouraged the Northern Virginia Delegation to consider the Missouri Plan adopted in that State in 1940, because the "Missouri Plan is a proven process for appointing judges based on merit." This plan was amended in 1976 and requires the establishment of a nonpartisan nominating commission for vacancies in the office of judge of the supreme court or of the court of appeals, to be known as the "The Appellate Judicial Commission." This commission consists of the chief justice of the state supreme court, who acts as chairperson, three lawyers elected by the state bar association, and three laymen appointed by the governor. None of the members may hold public office or be a party official. They are unsalaried and serve six-year staggered terms. The members of this commission, both lay and legal, must come from each of the appellate court districts in the State.

The commission places advertisements in local newspapers soliciting the names of prospective candidates. Ultimately, it nominates three candidates for every vacancy whereupon the governor selects one. The judge then serves a year's probationary period after which he/she must run unopposed for election on a nonpartisan ballot. The sole question submitted to the electorate is, "Shall Judge [name] be retained in office?" If a majority vote "yes," he/she remains in office for the full term if he/she is a lower appellate or supreme court judge. If he/she fails to obtain a majority, the nomination and appointment process begins anew.

In response to the VIA Coalition recommendation, Senator Charlie Waddell (D), responded that the Virginia Senate has previously passed resolutions in support of the Missouri Plan four times, but the House's Courts of Justice Committee has blocked the Missouri Plan each time.

Similarly, the Arlington County Civic Federation recommended that the 1997 General Assembly appoint a commission to study and recommend a plan for merit selection of judges on a less partisan basis (see the December 1996 Newsletter for details).

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