10 February 2011

Judicial Freeze: What Will the General Assembly Do Now?

Yesterday, as a the shock of Justice Hassell's passed through the Virginia legal community, I started to hear another question: Will the General Assembly stick to its guns and not appoint a new Justice? I had decided not to address the issue because it felt sort of crass. Then someone pointed out to me that the General Assembly is already in the process of interviewing replacements for Justice Koontz, who retired at the end of the last year.

Are you kidding me? You've got to be kidding me.

Look, the work at the Supreme Court remains largely the same, no matter how many Justices you have. Every Justice is supposed to read every brief, attend every argument, and take part in the decision. Of course, fewer Justices means that each Justice will have to write a few more opinions, but how does that compare to trial judges?

I've discussed previously how busy the trial judges in certain jurisdictions have gotten. Additionally, the judges in these circuits often have to travel between courthouses making it even harder for them to get their work done. If the General Assembly is going to replace anyone, it doesn't need to replace Justices before it replaces trial judges in the 11th juvenile court district and the 30th circuit court.

The Virginia Lawyers Weekly reports that the Senate has fully funded all the empty judicial slots and the House has not funded a single empty judicial slot (not sure if that includes Justices). The House has also pushed the current, dubious judicial redistricting plan out of committee and passed it while the Senate let it die it committee with a promise from the Supreme Court of Virginia to talk to everybody and come up with some miraculously perfect plan (current plan, my attempt). The current plan seems to be an attempt to even out places with too many judges and those with too few. It doesn't seem to take things like geographical realities into account.1 In any event, I have hopes that the two houses will meet somewhere in the middle and fill at least the most desperately needed third of the empty judicial slots (perhaps in this manner). I wish I could say they were expectations, but at this point I think we are all stuck with hopes.

1 Not that I think the "let everybody have their say", kumbaya approach will work either. Inertia, the pain of changing alignments, and sheer emotional attachments will make doing this without breaking a few eggs impossible. This is something that would have to eventually be championed and pushed through the General Assembly despite much opposition. I would just hope that when it is actually done the circuits would be more rational than the current proposal.

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