Tracy Thorne-Begland will become Virginia’s first openly gay judge when he dons a judicial robe July 1, as a result of an interim appointment by Richmond Circuit Court judges. His appointment lasts only until the legislature’s next session, and because legislators had rejected his nomination earlier, controversy continues to rage.
A Richmond Times-Dispatch article called the judges’ appointment of Thorne-Begland on Thursday “a bold move” and “a vindication of sorts for Thorne-Begland and his supporters.”
A spokesman for Gov. Robert McDonnell, a Republican, said, “The governor believes Mr. Thorne-Begland is well-qualified to serve on the bench. He congratulates him on the appointment.”
Democratic Sen. A. Donald McEachin said, “I applaud the circuit court judges for recognizing Mr. Thorne-Begland’s skill, qualifications and competency and putting aside bigotry, prejudice and false excuses.”
But Republican Del. Robert G. Marshall, who led opposition to Thorne-Begland’s nomination in the House of Delegates, called the action “an act of defiance” on the part of the appointing judges. ”When appointed officials get in fights with elected officials, they invariably lose,” a Washington Post article quoted him as saying.
House Republican leaders said in a statement they said were “surprised and disappointed” by the Richmond Circuit Court’s action.
Earlier this week, leaders of Richmond’s five largest law firms announced their support for an interim appointment of Thorne-Begland to the bench (see Gavel Grab).
During debate in May, conservatives contended Thorne-Begland’s support for same-sex marriage and his challenging the military’s now-defunct “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy made him unsuitable for the judgeship. A former fighter pilot, he was discharged honorably from the Navy.