by Richard Hall-Sizemore
In 2014, Sen. Philip Puckett, a Democrat from far Southwest Virginia, was in a quandary. His daughter was vying for a juvenile and domestic relations court judgeship, to which she had already been appointed as a substitute judge. However, Republicans in the Senate, led by Sen. Tommy Norment, R-James City, were holding up her election, not based on any objection to her qualifications, but because of a tradition of not supporting family members of sitting Senators for judgeships.
Fast forward to 2019. Until yesterday there was a vacancy pending on the Virginia Supreme Court. A Republican senator from far Southwest Virginia is, according to newspaper reports, lobbied his fellow senators to elect his sister, currently a member of the Virginia Court of Appeals, to the higher post. Norment said that situation was different because the senator’s sister had already been elected to a judgeship before her brother had been elected to the Senate.
Not wanting to seem to give preferential treatment to family members of its colleagues, the Senate’s informal rule against supporting them for judgeships seems reasonable. But it seems that rule would apply to all judgeships, whether applying to entry level or the highest post in the judiciary.
Upon closer examination of history, it turns out that the situation in 2014 was different for another reason. The Senate was deadlocked, 20-20, with a Democratic Lieutenant Governor presiding. Norment was holding Puckett’s daughter’s judgeship hostage in order to pressure him to resign, giving the Republicans a chance to grab the majority. The gambit worked. Puckett resigned and a Republican was elected to take his place.
Who was the Republican benefiting from the rule that senators should not elect family members to judgeships? Why, Ben Chafin, the Senator whose sister was elected yesterday to the Virginia Supreme Court! Obviously, for Tommy Norment, being in the majority means you get to set the rules and they do not necessarily apply to you.
Richard W. Hall-Sizemore recently retired from a position in the Department of Planning and Budget.There are currently no comments highlighted.