Judicial Selection Overview
Virginia's judicial system is made up of three levels of courts - appellate, trial, and limited jurisdiction courts. These levels consist of five jurisdictionally distinct courts: the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, the circuit courts, the general district courts, and the juvenile and domestic relations district courts.
The Supreme Court of Virginia consists of seven justices who serve for terms of 12 years. The 11 judges of the Court of Appeals serve for terms of eight years. The judges of the circuit courts also serve for terms of eight years. Judges of the general district courts and judges of the juvenile and domestic relations courts serve for terms of six years.
Judges in Virginia are selected for the bench by a process of legislative election. The judicial selection process begins when a vacancy occurs in the judiciary or when a new seat is created by the General Assembly. The Supreme Court (circuit and appellate levels) and the Committee on District Courts (district level) advise the General Assembly whether or not a vacancy should be filled based primarily upon caseload statistics.
Nomination and Qualification of Candidates
Once the vacancy is "certified" by the appropriate body, the House and Senate Committees for Courts of Justice begin taking nominations from General Assembly members.
Names of candidates are then submitted by General Assembly members to the House and Senate Committees for Courts of Justice. These Committees determine whether or not each individual is "qualified" for the judgeship he or she seeks. The hearings held by the Courts' Committees are open to the public and the public is given an opportunity to appear before the Committees, if someone so desires.
Following the Courts Committees' determination of qualification, a report listing qualified candidates is made to each house of the General Assembly. The House of Delegates and the Senate vote separately, under a procedural resolution, and the candidate receiving the most votes in each house is elected to the vacant judgeship or new seat. Incumbent judges standing for election to a subsequent term must go through the same process. The election does not require action by the Governor.
Powers of the Governor
During those months when the General Assembly is not in session, the Governor has the power to fill judicial vacancies that occur in the appellate courts and the circuit courts. District court judges can be appointed by the circuit court if the legislature is not in session and a vacancy has occurred in one of those courts. Nevertheless, these pro tempore appointees are subject to legislative election at the next session of the General Assembly following their appointment.
Process Administrator: Mary Kate Felch, a senior research associate with the Division of Legislative Services.