Saturday, January 27, 2007

How should we select a Chief Justice?

This SCOTUSBlog post addresses the question of how should the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court be selected, and the commentary proposes that "once all nine vacancies on the Supreme Court are filled, the members of the Court should select the Chief Justice," for the reason that "the Justices are in the best position to know whether one of their colleagues is collegial and possesses the leadership and administrative skills to serve as an effective Chief Justice." The referenced article can be downloaded here.

Last week's Virginia Lawyers Weekly had a cover story on HB 2089, which would among other things change the way the Chief Justice is selected in Virginia, taking the selection power away the members of the Supreme Court, while at the same time taking a number of statutory responsibilities away from the Chief Justice and giving them to the members of the entire Court. The proponent is Delegate Janis, with whom I might be inclined to agree on many things, with the exception of his extraordinary remarks about judicial selection, and some parts of this bill. There seems to me some inconsistency between empowering the whole Court to decide an increased number of matters while removing their power to select a Chief Justice.

The significance of the bill has more to do with cutting back the powers of the Chief Justice over local judges, it seems to me, than with trying to oust the current Chief Justice, who might well continue as Chief even if HB 2089 passed, since it does not require the senior justice to agree to serve as Chief Justice.

HB 2089 appears again in this week's VLW, which has a story about how Chief Justice Hassell has taken up the issue of how the workload is assigned among the judges of the Circuit Court for the City of Richmond. The article says: "Hassell's intervention with the Richmond judges appears to have played a role in the decision of Del. William R. Janis to introduce House Bill 2089, which moves many of the specific statutory duties of the chief justice to the full court or to the chief circuit court judge." VLW, 1/29/07.

In the earlier VLW article, a spokesman for the Supreme Court offered this provocative comment about HB 2089: "The Supreme Court of Virginia has significant concerns about the impact of this bill upon the administration of justice."

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