Judicial selection in Virginia

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Judicial selection in the states
Judicial selection in Virginia
Seal of Virginia.png
Virginia Supreme Court
Method:   Legislative elections
Term:   12 years
Virginia Court of Appeals
Method:   Legislative elections
Term:   8 years
Virginia Circuit Courts
Method:   Legislative elections
Term:   8 years
Virginia District Courts
Method:   Legislative elections
Term:   6 years

Selection of state court judges in Virginia occurs almost exclusively through legislative election.[1] Having used this method even before it was granted statehood, Virginia is one of only two states in the country, the other being South Carolina, where judges are selected this way.[2][3]

Selection process

See also: Legislative election of judges

The selection process is identical for supreme court, court of appeals and circuit court judges. As outlined in Article VI of the Virginia Constitution, judges are elected by a majority vote of the Virginia General Assembly (the combined house of delegates and senate).[4]

Supreme court justices serve for twelve years while appeals and circuit judges serve for eight years. At the end of their terms, judges must be re-elected by the legislature just as they initially were.[4]

Selection of the chief justice or judge

The chief justice and judge of each court is selected by peer vote. The supreme court chief justice serves in that capacity for four years, while the chief judges of the appeals and circuit courts serve for two years.[1]


To serve on the supreme court, court of appeals or circuit court, a judge must be:

  • a state resident;
  • a circuit resident (for circuit judges);
  • a state bar member for at least five years; and
  • no older than 70.*[1]

*Retirement is mandatory for sitting judges who turn 70 while in office. Such judges may continue serving until 20 days after the convening of the regular general assembly session following his or her birthday. An increase in judicial retirement age has also been passed by the state legislature and awaits the Governor's signature (see Legislation section below).[5]


When the general assembly is in session, midterm vacancies are filled by the same legislative election process normally used to select judges. When the assembly is not in session, the governor appoints a replacement to serve until 30 days after the start of the next session, by which point a judge must be elected to the seat.[4][1]

District courts

See also: Legislative election of judges

Virginia's district court judges, which are judges of limited jurisdiction, are also chosen through legislative election.[6] They serve terms of six years.[7]


Judicial requirements for the district courts are similar to those of the other courts. Judges must be:

  • a state and local resident;
  • a state bar member for at least five years; and
  • no older than 70. (see Legislation section below)[6]


Midterm vacancies are filled by legislative election. If the general assembly is not in session when a vacancy occurs, the governor appoints a replacement to serve until 30 days after the next session begins. A full-term judge is then elected.[6]


As of March 4, 2015, both houses of Virginia's legislature had approved an increase to the state's mandatory judicial retirement age. The bill, which would increase the retirement age from 70 to 73, awaits the approval of Governor Terry McAuliffe, who is expected to sign it into law. The bill was approved by the state Virginia State Senate 28-10 on February 5, 2015, and went on to pass in the Virginia House of Delegates 83-10 on February 27. It was sponsored by Senator Thomas Norment.[8][9]


Selection methods in Virginia have undergone several changes since the inception of the judiciary. Below is a timeline noting the various stages, from the most recent to the earliest:

  • 2002: Established that the chief justice of the Virginia Supreme Court is to be elected by peer vote to a four-year term.
  • 1983: The Virginia Court of Appeals was created.
  • 1870: Established that judges are to be elected by the Virginia General Assembly and no longer nominated by the governor.
  • 1864: Established that judges are to be elected by the Virginia General Assembly "from persons nominated by the governor."
  • 1850: Established that judges are to be elected by popular vote. Term lengths of supreme court and circuit court judges were changed to twelve and eight years, respectively.
  • 1776: Established that judges are to be elected and serve for life by the Virginia General Assembly.[2]

Selection of federal judges

United States district court judges, who are selected from each state, go through a different selection process than that of state judges.

The district courts are served by Article III federal judges who are appointed for life, during "good behavior." They are usually first recommended by senators (or members of the House, occasionally). The President of the United States of America nominates judges, who must then be confirmed by the United States Senate in accordance with Article III of the United States Constitution.[10]

Step ApprovedA Candidacy Proceeds DefeatedD Candidacy Halts
1. Recommendation made by Congress member to the President President nominates to Senate Judiciary Committee President declines nomination
2. Senate Judiciary Committee interviews candidate Sends candidate to Senate for confirmation Returns candidate to President, who may re-nominate to committee
3. Senate votes on candidate confirmation Candidate becomes federal judge Candidate does not receive judgeship

See also

External links