Probing the backgrounds of judge nominees for ‘activism’

Posted at 6:38 PM, May 16, 2012
and last updated 2012-05-16 18:38:18-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) Controversy surrounds the rejection of Tracy Thorne-Begland's judgeship.

We wanted to know- do any of the nominees who were confirmed to the bench have any  'activism,' in their backgrounds?

Thorne-Begland's nomination came under fire for gay rights advocacy, and his television appearance blasting the military's 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy, more than 20 years ago.  

Although we didn't find any similar activity among the confirmed judges,  state delegate Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) points out the General Assembly okayed two former lawmakers--Clay Athey, and Bud Phillips who have clearly taken public positions on a wide range of issues.

"What's an activist?,” questioned McClellan. “Is it somebody who runs for office and loses? Is it someone who constitutionally files a lawsuit to challenge a law they think is wrong?”

“All of these could fall under the definition of an activist, so where do you draw the line?” she asked.

"It's one thing not to like the law, but when you're talking about someone who's a judge, are they going to apply the law even though they don't like it?” said Ken Cuccinelli, Republican Virginia Attorney General.

“And in this case there's evidence, at least two instances, perhaps not,” he added.

We took this question to our political analyst Dr. Bob Holsworth.

We asked, what's the difference between 'legislating' and 'activism' when it comes to carving out your positions.

"The difference is really your level of power, probably,” said Dr. Bob Holsworth, CBS 6 political analyst.

“An activist is trying to get other people to change the law-- legislators actually have the power to change the law one way or the other.

Holsworth went on to say, what you find in Virginia’s Judicial system- is a history of appointing legislators, or former legislators, to judgeships.

We made an attempt to interview Republican House Majority Leader Kirk Cox today, who
abstained from Tuesday’s early morning vote.

We were unable to get a hold of Mr. Cox.

One-third of the legislators did not vote. You can read the final roll call here: How lawmakers voted in judicial election of Thorne-Begland