How judges are selected in the Commonwealth of Virginia

In recent years, judges and the judicial selection process have increasingly found their way into the daily news. Issues such as representation and diversity have gained more recognition and increased calls for action. The question of how our state’s judiciary is selected has never been more important, yet many people are unaware of how judges are actually selected.

selecting judges

Selecting Judges in Virginia

Whereas many states use public elections, the Commonwealth of Virginia is one of just a few where judges are selected by a voting process of the legislature. It is a process written directly into our state’s constitution, which commands that “[t]he justices of the Supreme Court shall be chosen by the vote of a majority of the members elected to each house of the General Assembly…The judges of all other courts of record shall be chosen by the vote of a majority of the members elected to each house of the General Assembly.”

In times where the General Assembly is not in session and a judicial vacancy occurs, the Governor may appoint someone to fill the post temporarily, with their term expiring thirty days after the start of the next General Assembly session.  The General Assembly, of course, does have the option to confirm the appointment by the governor, in which case that judge would begin a full term in the post.

To qualify for a position as a judge in the Commonwealth of Virginia, Virginia judges are required to be a resident of Virginia and lawyers admitted to the Virginia bar for at least five years prior to assuming the bench. Additionally, each judge sitting in a court of record must reside in the circuit where he or she sits as a judge.

Do Virginia Judges Have Term Limits?

Justices sitting on the United States Supreme Court are appointed for life.  Justices of the Virginia Supreme Court, however, are limited to serve terms of twelve years.  Judges of the Virginia Court of Appeals and the Virginia circuit courts serve eight-year terms.  It is common for Judges to be reappointed after the expiration of their term, but it is not guaranteed.

The Virginia Constitution calls for the General Assembly to set the retirement age for judges.  Before 2015, Judges who reached the age of 70 were required to retire 20 days after the next session of the General Assembly convened.  Since 2015, however, the General Assembly increased the retirement age to 73.  This change applies only to judges “who are elected or appointed to an original or subsequent term commencing on or after July 1, 2015.”

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