Teresa Chafin joins the Virginia Supreme Court

Teresa Chafin joined the Virginia Supreme Court this week to fill the vacancy created by Justice Elizabeth McClanahan’s retirement on September 1. In February 2019, the Virginia General Assembly unanimously approved Chafin to succeed McClanahan.
Chafin received her J.D. from the University of Richmond School of Law in 1987. Her previous judgeships included serving on the state’s 29th Judicial Circuit from 2005 to 2012 and on the Virginia Court of Appeals from 2012 to 2019.
State supreme court justices in Virginia are appointed through legislative selection. As outlined in Article VI of the Virginia Constitution, judges are selected by a majority vote of the Virginia General Assembly, which is the combined House of Delegates and state Senate. Supreme court justices serve for 12 years and are subject to reappointment to additional terms by the legislature. Virginia is one of two states, the other being South Carolina, where judges are selected using this method.
The Virginia Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort. It is made up of seven justices. As of September 2019, the justices were:
  • S. Bernard Goodwyn
  • Bill Mims
  • D. Arthur Kelsey
  • Stephen R. McCullough
  • Cleo Powell
  • Donald Lemons
  • Teresa Chafin
Three justices–Powell, Goodwyn, and Mims–were selected by a General Assembly with a Democratic-controlled Senate and a Republican-controlled House. However, Republicans held a majority in the General Assembly overall. Justices Powell and Mims were selected when Republicans had a 77-61 majority. Justice Goodwyn was appointed by Gov. Tim Kaine (D) in 2007 while the legislature was out of session, and he was later approved by the 74-63 Republican-majority General Assembly in 2008. Justices Chafin, Lemons, Kelsey, and McCullough were selected by a General Assembly with Republican control of both chambers.
In 2019, there have been 18 supreme court vacancies across 12 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. Of those 18 vacancies, 12 are in states where a Republican governor appoints the replacement. Five vacancies occurred in a state where a Democratic governor appoints the replacement, and one (Virginia) occurred in a state where a Republican-controlled legislature appoints the replacement.
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