- Associated Press
Thursday, July 28, 2011

RICHMOND — Justice is at hand Friday for Virginia’s short-staffed Supreme Court. Actually, make that justices two of them.

The House and Senate return in special session Friday to fill two vacancies on the seven-member state Supreme Court, including the first black woman ever to sit on the state’s highest court.

Disagreement between the Republican-run House and Democratic-ruled Senate lasted through the entire 47-day regular winter session and for the more than three months lawmakers have been in a largely dormant special session for redistricting.

Delegate David Albo, Fairfax Republican and chairman of the House Courts of Justice Committee, said the lawmakers will elevate Court of Appeals judges Elizabeth McClanahan and Cleo Powell to the Supreme Court.

Judge Powell will become the first female black  justice in Virginia.

The impasse broke after Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell sent legislative leaders of both parties a terse letter last week reminding them that their delays are causing hardships and delayed court dockets.

Mr. McDonnell asked lawmakers to finish their constitutional duty to appoint judges, or to adjourn their largely dormant redistricting special session and allow him to make the appointments.

There is no such break in the partisan procrastination over redrawing Virginia’s 11 congressional districts and no vote likely Friday.

The Senate insists on creating a second “minority influence” district in southeastern Virginia that would give black voters a greater chance to elect their choice in the 4th Congressional District. That would likely unseat Republican Rep. J. Randy Forbes, replacing him with a Democrat.

The House plan would boost the black voting-age population of the state’s only majority black district, that of Democratic 3rd District Rep. Bobby Scott, but keep Mr. Forbes’ district safely Republican.

Each side accuses their rival’s plan of running afoul of the federal Voting Rights Act, passed to ban Jim Crow-era laws that diluted the voting strength of blacks.

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