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State of Virginia Judicial Selection Process

The process of selecting judges in Virginia

The judicial system of Virginia consists of three court levels, including the trial courts, limited jurisdiction, and appellate courts. The levels further comprise of five different courts, including juvenile, domestic, district, appellate, and the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court of Virginia has twelve judges, each serving for a term of twelve years, while the Court of Appeal is made up of ten judges, each serving for a term of ten years; judges for the remaining courts only serve for a term of six years. To serve in any of the Virginia’s courts, judges are selected through a legislative process; this process is occasioned by either a vacancy or creation of a new post in the state’s judiciary (West Virginia & Resource Planning Corporation, 2004). A committee of district courts and the Supreme Court judges is responsible for advising the general assembly whether it is worthwhile to create new posts in the judiciary. Nominations to the relevant posts begin once the committee and the Supreme Court makes a decision.

Nomination by the general assembly involves a competitive process that includes several interviews geared towards getting the right candidates who are then recommended to the general assembly’s two houses. The general assembly is tasked with submitting names of the preferred candidates to the committees in the Senate and the House of Delegates. The general assembly has both formal and informal mechanisms of screening the candidates brought before it by the Supreme Court and district court committees. Each candidate is allocated sufficient time to make submissions and prove to the assembly that they qualify for the post at hand. These committees make decisions as to whether the candidate is suitable for the judicial post or not. The two house committees give any member of the public who has anything against the candidate permission to appear before them, before approving the candidate. Committee members in the two houses cast their votes in separate sessions and the candidate who receives the highest votes in both houses is selected to fill the vacant or new post in the judiciary. According to the rules of senators in Virginia, senators across the divide must unanimously endorse the candidate to the new post or vacancy to qualify for appointment (West Virginia & Resource Planning Corporation, 2004). The governor’s action is not involved in the selection process in the judiciary. However, the governor can fill a vacancy occurring at district courts or in the court of appeal when the general assembly is on recession. The governor’s appointees are subjected to a legislative selection procedure once the general assembly resumes.

Selection of judges in California

In California, a non-biased nomination commission is responsible for screening candidates in the judiciary. The commission then shortlists the names of a few candidates and submits the list to the appointment authority. The selection process is known as merit selection since the commission selects judicial applicants based on qualifications. Merit selection is free from political or social interference or manipulation. The merit selection process in California was established constitutionally, whereby the executive made an order through a constitution amendment (California & Corbett, 2007). One outstanding feature of merit selection is the ability to retain judges in office after the end of their term. After the completion of their term, the judges appear in a contest where the voters make a decision to retain or to release a judge based on previous record. Before 1934, California selected its judges through a popular election, and in 1934, the legislature amended the constitution, allowing for the governor of California to appoint an applicant from two or three applicants submitted to him by the board consisting of the chief justice, court of appeal presiding judge as well as a senate member. In addition, the constitutional amendment allowed for retention election for judges who completed their terms successfully to serve the judiciary.

The retention election to the Supreme Court allowed for the judges to serve for another term of six years subject to removal from the office through a call provision. Today, if a vacancy arises either in the court of appeal or the Supreme Court, the governor has the power of appointing an interim candidate for filling in the position. The selection of an interim candidate to the Supreme Court or the court of appeal is limited to state bar members who have served for not less than ten years. The governor informally establishes a judicial advisory board that helps in evaluating the applicants. Before the governor appoints the interim candidate, the name of the judge has to be submitted for screening to the state bar that comprises of members of the public and experienced attorneys. The state bar compiles a report and hands in to the governor who seeks public comments before confirming the candidate. Swearing in into office follows the conformation of the candidate by the governor. The judge serves for a term equal to governors’ tenure into office. However, if the judge passes the non-biased retention election conducted through voting, he or she serves for another six years in the supreme or court of appeal. In a nutshell, superior court Judges in California are selected into office through non-biased elections to serve for a term of six years (California & Corbett, 2007). The governor is responsible for filling in vacancies through temporary appointments in the judiciary system.

The procedure for removing judges from office as a disciplinary action

Judges in the Supreme Court, appellate, general level, and other courts are subject to suspension or removal from office on grounds of gross misconduct. However, the process of removing a judge from office as a disciplinary measure in each state varies significantly. California has three identifiable ways of removing a judge from office; the judge is removed if the assembly and two thirds of senate members make a decision to impeach the judge. Judges are also removed through the recall election. Only judges who receive high number of votes qualify for reelection in California. The commission mandated with investigating the performance of judiciary may also investigate the conduct of a judge subject to complaints from members of the public (California & Corbett, 2007). In such cases, the commission conducts the investigation and hands in its report to the Supreme Court judges who make the final decision whether to remove the judge from office.

The process of removing judges is slightly different in Virginia since there are only two ways of removing judges from office. The first way involves removal by both the house delegates and two thirds of senate members. In addition, the commission for review and inquiry in the judiciary has power to investigate the conduct of judges subject to complaints from members of the public (West Virginia & Resource Planning Corporation, 2004). The commission organizes a series of hearings with the judge whose conduct is questionable and to gather sufficient evidence. Where the commission finds enough evidence to warrant charges for the judge, it compiles a report of inquiry and hands in to the Supreme Court judges who makes a decision whether or not to remove the judge from office.

The best judicial selection process

The existing legislative process of selecting judges in Virginia is better compared to the merit selection process in California. The purported non-partisan elective process has several weaknesses that reduce its effectiveness in appointing the right judges into office. Since the merit selection does not follow a rational selection procedure compared to the progressive legislative procedure, members of the public do not have the opportunity to question the credibility of the selected candidate (Elster, 2010). The elections in merit selection discourage some judges who have the right qualifications from seeking office because it is based on popularity of judges. Elections unlike other political positions interfere with the independence and impartiality of the judiciary.

The commission for electing judges into office in the merit selection does not represent the whole population as opposed to the legislature, implying that applicants may not be drawn from all regions in an equal way. Merit selection denies members of the public their right since it assumes that the public have knowledge of the selected judges. Proponents of the merit selection argue that it eliminates politics in the judiciary, but this is not the reality. Some judges who are elected through retention elections also end up serving for life, denying opportunities for the upcoming attorneys to serve their state (Elster, 2010). In summary, the merit selection process is not democratic compared to the legislative judicial selection process practiced in Virginia.

References

California., & Corbett, E. (2007). Informational hearing, the judicial selection process. Sacramento, CA: Senate Publications & Flags.

Elster, J. (2010). Local justice in America. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

West Virginia., & Resource Planning Corporation. (2004). West Virginia judicial personnel system: Implementation plan. Washington, D.C: Resource Planning Corp.