Supreme Court of Virginia

From Ballotpedia
(Redirected from Virginia Supreme Court)
Jump to: navigation, search
Supreme Court of Virginia
Court information
Justices:   7
Location:   Richmond, Virginia
Chief:  $201,000
Associates:  $189,000
Judicial selection
Method:   Legislative election of judges
Term:   12 years
Active justices

Donald Lemons  •  Bernard Goodwyn  •  Leroy Millette  •  D. Arthur Kelsey  •  Elizabeth McClanahan  •  Cleo Powell  •  Bill Mims  •  

Seal of Virginia.png

The Supreme Court of Virginia is the court of last resort in Virginia. The court is located in Richmond, Virginia.


The current justices of the court are:
Chief Justice Donald Lemons2000-Present
Justice Bernard Goodwyn2007-2020
Justice Leroy Millette2009-2015
Judge D. Arthur Kelsey2015-2027
Justice Elizabeth McClanahan2011-2023
Justice Cleo Powell2011-2023
Justice Bill Mims2010-2022

Chief justice

Donald Lemons is the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia. He was preceded by Cynthia Kinser.[1]

Former judges


The court's primary function is to review lower court decisions, and state law does not allow appeals to the court "as a matter of right" except where the State Corporation Commission, the disbarment of an attorney or a review of the death penalty is involved. The court has both original and appellate jurisdiction. Original jurisdiction is limited to matters filed by the Virginia Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission (on the topics of judicial censure, retirement, and the removal of judges) and to cases of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, and "writs of actual innocence pursuant to Virginia's Code § 19.2-327.2."[2]

Judicial selection

The General Assembly elects the Justices of the Supreme Court. Generally this occurs when a Justice announces his or her intention to retire at a date after the next meeting of the legislature. If a vacancy occurs while the legislature is not in session (by a death or unexpected retirement or resignation), Justices may be appointed to a pro tempore term by the Governor, however, they must be elected to a full term by the state legislature when it next meets, which must give the pro tempore justice an "up or down" vote. Four of the current seven Justices were selected in this way. The next likely vacancy that will occur, if Justice Keenan is confirmed as a Judge of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, will also be filled by the Governor. The vacancy created by the anticipated retirement of Justice Koontz (barring a change in the mandatory retirement law) in 2011, however, would be filled by the legislature directly (unless Justice Koontz were to retire prior to the mandatory date).

Justices are elected to 12 years terms, and subject to reappointment to additional terms by the legislature (the Governor has no formal role in reappointment). A Justice who reaches the age of 70 must retire on or before the 20th day after the General Assembly next meets in regular session (typically, late January of the year following the Justice's seventieth birthday). A bill is currently before the legislature that would advance the retirement age to 73. Up to five retired Justices may, at the Court's option, serve as Senior Justices for renewable one-year terms. Senior Justices typically sit regularly on writ panels and will sit on merit cases, occasionally authoring opinions, when an active Justice is recused or otherwise unable to sit.


The Pre-Appointment Application to be filed with the Governor of Virginia is available here. Additionally, a nominating organization may fill out a nominating form, available here.

Political outlook

See also: Political outlook of State Supreme Court Justices

In October 2012, political science professors Adam Bonica and Michael Woodruff of Stanford University attempted to determine the partisan outlook of state supreme court justices in their paper, State Supreme Court Ideology and 'New Style' Judicial Campaigns. A score above 0 indicated a more conservative leaning ideology while scores below 0 were more liberal. The state Supreme Court of Virginia was given a campaign finance score (CFscore) which was calculated for judges in October 2012. At that time, Virginia received a score of 0.11. Based on the justices selected, Virginia was the 18th most conservative court. The study is based on data from campaign contributions by judges themselves, the partisan leaning of contributors to the judges or, in the absence of elections, the ideology of the appointing body (governor or legislature). This study is not a definitive label of a justice but rather, an academic gauge of various factors.[3]

Removal of justices


Fiscal Year Filings Dispositions
2014 * *
2013 2,050 1,997
2012 2,216 2,113
2011 2,333 2,458
2010 2,485 2,577
2009 2,639 2,538
2008 2,615 2,452
2007 2,634 2,817


* Virginia has not released caseload data for 2014.

Notable decisions


Financial disclosure

See also: Center for Public Integrity Study on State Supreme Court Disclosure Requirements

In December 2013, the Center for Public Integrity released a study on disclosure requirements for state supreme court judges. Analysts from the Center reviewed the rules governing financial disclosure in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as personal financial disclosures for the past three years. The study found that 42 states and Washington D.C. received failing grades. Virginia earned a grade of F in the study. No state received a grade higher than "C". Furthermore, due in part to these lax disclosure standards, the study found 35 instances of questionable gifts, investments overlapping with caseloads and similar potential ethical quandaries. The study also noted 14 cases in which justices participated although they or their spouses held stock in the company involved in the litigation.[5]

History of the court

The Supreme Court of Virginia Building in Richmond

The court has its roots in the 17th-century English legal system, owing to the state's original establishment as an English colony. In 1970, the court was renamed to its current title, and is the highest court in the state. It primarily hears appeals from the trial-level city and county Circuit Courts, but also hears family law and administrative cases that have come through the Court of Appeals of Virginia.[6]

Before a case is heard by the Supreme Court, a petition is filed with the Clerk which is then assigned to a law clerk for research and further preparation. Oral arguments are heard before a panel of three justices. In rare cases, oral arguments may be heard by the Chief Staff Attorney who would then present the case to the panel for decision. The justices review the merits of each case and one justice may grant an appeal. All three justices must concur to deny an appeal. If denied, the appeal process ends and the judgment of the lower court is affirmed. If review is granted, the appeal proceeds and argument of the cases is scheduled before the Court. Opinions are published on the last day of each session of the Court in Virginia Reports.[7]

Notable firsts

  • Cynthia Kinser was the first female chief justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia.[8]

External links