Supreme Weekly: Vacancies in California, Virginia and New Jersey
by Katy Farrell
Currently, there are four vacancies on the state Supreme Courts. Since there are 338 seats, this number means that about 1.2% of available seats are vacant. While this is a low percentage, the stories behind the empty seats highlight the present-day problems across the states.
No move has been made by the Governor's Office to fill the vacancy. The only specific mention toward a replacement came from Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye at the beginning of February, when she heralded the idea of geographic and ethic diversity on the court, hoping that the successor for Justice Moreno would "share[s] his heritage and residency." 
Technically in California, there is a statewide hiring freeze. In an effort to reduce the massive budget shortfall the state is expected to encounter this year, Governor Brown announced on February 15 that vacant, seasonal full and part-time positions would go unfilled, except in roles where core functions are served. Though it has not been publicly discussed, the vacancy on the court might be open still in an effort to save money. 
The Virginia Supreme Court has been operating with only five justices since February. One vacancy, caused by the mandatory age restriction retirement of Lawrence Koontz, was expected. One, due to the death of Leroy Hassell, was not.
Virginia is one of two states that chooses judges with legislative election of judges. Two real ramifications of this method are: judges can only be elected while the State Legislature is in session, and if the two houses are controlled by different parties, it could be difficult to win consensus on a nominee.
Session Regarding this year's session, it lasted from January 12 through February 27. A special session reconvened yesterday to meet the deadline set for redistricting. If the new judges are not selected in this special session, Governor Bob McDonnell can appoint justices to serve until the Virginia General Assembly begins its new session January 11, 2012. 
Partisan bodies During the regular session, the Republican-dominated House of Delegates nominated appellate judge Elizabeth McClanahan to succeed Lawrence Koontz. The Democratic-led Senate never acted on the nomination, leaving the seat empty. Once another seat opened up, however, it seemed a deal might be struck. 
This week The Courts of Justice committees in both the Senate and House of Delegates interviewed candidates for the vacancy of Leroy Hassell. Both bodies know that they must come to a compromise if they wish to fulfill their constitutional duties before adjourning. 
The battle over the New Jersey Supreme Court still rages in the state, though no action has made news recently. Governor Chris Christie and the New Jersey Senate, specifically President of the Senate Stephen Sweeney, have reached an impasse.
By refusing to reappoint John Wallace due to his ideology in May 2010, Governor Christie sparked the ire of members of the Democratic-controlled Senate. With a court to run still, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner appointed appellate judge Edwin Stern to serve as a temporary justice. This move in turn angered colleague Roberto Rivera-Soto, who went on strike on the bench, refusing to participate in decisions.
Meanwhile, Christie nominated Anne Murray Patterson, a lawyer in private practice, to succeed Wallace on the bench. Senator Sweeney has yet to initiate confirmation proceedings for the nominee. At this point, it seems that he will not begin until March 2012, when Wallace's term would have expired (due to the mandatory retirement age) had he been reappointed. 
- ↑ Los Angeles Times, "New chief justice says California Supreme Court will decide soon on entering Proposition 8 fray," February 3, 2011
- ↑ KCET, "Welcome Governor Brown, Best Wishes Justice Moreno, " January 10, 2011
- ↑ ENewsChannels, "Calif. Governor Brown Orders Statewide Hiring Freeze," February 17, 2011
- ↑ The Roanoke TImes, "Earley on list of candidates for Supreme Court," April 4, 2011
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 The Washington Post, "General Assembly looking to fill two Supreme Court vacancies," April 5, 2011
- ↑ The Roanoke Times, "Supreme Court seats, other judgeships still vacant," March 1, 2011
- ↑ Star-Ledger, "State appellate judge is appointed interim N.J. Supreme Court justice," September 9, 2010
|This article was written by Katy Farrell, the Editor of Judgepedia. She can be reached at email@example.com.|