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Litigation: The Gavel
Virginia Legislature Rejects Openly Gay Judge Candidate
By Peter Hardin
The nomination of Tracy Thorne-Begland for a Richmond, Va. general district court judgeship was rejected by the General Assembly. Conservatives contended his support for same-sex marriage and his challenging the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy made him unsuitable for a judgeship.
Thorne-Begland would have become the first openly gay judge elected in Virginia had he been confirmed, according to a Richmond Times-Dispatch article. The Senate let his nomination pass by for the day, effectively killing it due to the lateness of the legislative hour, and the House voted 33 to 31, with 10 abstentions, to make Thorne-Begland a judge. He needed 51 votes of support in the 100-member chamber to take the bench, the Washington Post reported.
Republican Del. Robert G. Marshall, who led an effort against Thorne-Begland’s election to the bench, said, “He holds himself out as being married.” In Virginia, same-sex marriage is not legal, Marshall said, and Thorne-Begland’s “life is a contradiction to the requirement of submission to the constitution.”
?The debate in the House of Delegates was homophobic and embarrassing and showed a disrespect to a chief deputy commonwealth attorney and decorated veteran who was honorably discharged,? said Sen. Adam P. Ebbin, a Democrat and the state’s first openly gay senator. ?It?s offensive that the Senate wouldn?t even grant Lt. Thorne-Begland the courtesy of a vote.?
Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, said Monday that sexual orientation should not determine an individual’s fitness for a judgeship.
“All I can tell you is what I’ve always said about judges, and that is that these ought to be merit-based selections solely based on a person’s skill, ability, fairness, judicial temperament, ” he said on Monday.
Thorne-Begland, a former fighter pilot who was honorably discharged from the Navy (see Gavel Grab), had written a letter to a legislator saying he would be neutral if elected to the bench.
“My decisions will be guided by, and be faithful to, the constitutions, the laws, and the case authority of the commonwealth and the United States,” he wrote. “I understand that my role as a district court judge will be to ‘apply the law.’ ”
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