Last week, longtime Vermont Supreme Court Justice John Dooley announced he will retire at the end of his term, next March. There followed the predictable encomiums to his service and legal mind and his staunch liberalism, notably expressed in the 1999 civil unions decision.
You know the first thing that crossed my mind?
Who gets to fill the vacancy: Peter Shumlin or his successor?
Yeah, I immediately went to the politics. Vermont Political Observer through and through. The stakes aren’t nearly as high as for the U.S. Supreme Court, but there are definitely stakes. Presumably Phil Scott and Sue Minter would have different qualifications in mind if they got to name one of the Court’s five Justices.
I don’t know for sure; no one in the media has seen fit to inquire about the candidates’ judicial philosophy and their views of Vermont jurisprudence.
And apparently, none of them thought to inquire about the procedure for naming Dooley’s successor. Correction: Some other media were posing the question, as can be seen in Paul Heintz’ story, posted late today; we just didn’t get an answer until this afternoon.
And here it is, verbatim, from the Governor’s spokesperson Sue Allen:
The Governor appreciates Justice Dooley’s service on the Court and wishes him well in his pending retirement. After his decision to retire was announced, the Governor asked his counsel to look at the nominating statute and let him know what the process would be. The Governor’s Office also consulted with legislative leaders, including the Chairs of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, and the Chair of the Judicial Nominating Board. As it turns out, the statute and Board rules are clear: when a Supreme Court Justice announces they will not be a candidate for retention, the nominating board – upon notification by the Governor of the vacancy – “shall” initiate the process to send candidates to the Governor.
The Governor appreciates the hard work of the Judicial Nominating Board, which is already in the process of sending him recommendations to fill two trial judge positions this Fall. The Governor understands that per the statute, the Board is also prepared to accept applications and make recommendations to fill the seat on the Supreme Court. The Governor plans to interview qualified candidates and name a successor to Justice Dooley later this Fall.
So that’s that. Governor Shumlin intends to handle this one himself. Which ought to be a small relief to Vermont liberals; Dooley’s successor will probably be similar in outlook.
Shumlin’s reading of the law seems clear; on the other hand, isn’t it a little bit funky to be filling a vacancy that won’t exist for another six months?
I’m just guessing here, but I expect the VTGOP to kick up a fuss. It’s what they’re good at.