Legislation to expand Virginia courts passes House


Legislation that would expand the number of judges in the Virginia court system passed the House of Delegates Thursday, but will need to be reconsidered by the Senate with amendments.

Senate Bill 1261, as amended, would expand the court of appeals from 11 to 15. The language in the original Senate version, sponsored by Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, would have expanded that number to 17. The amended version would go into effect in January 2022, which is different from the original version, which would go into effect in October 2021.

Gov. Ralph Northam initially proposed expanding the court system amid criminal justice changes passed the General Assembly in last year’s special session. His reason was that additional judges would help the courts handle a tougher workload in a timely manner.

The legislation, which passed the House 54-45, received strong opposition from Republicans, who accused Democrats of court packing. Republican leaders have expressed concern that the state will appoint activist judges friendly to Democratic policies, which they’ve claimed are soft on crime. The unamended version passed the Senate 21-18 with a strong partisan divide as well.

If lawmakers fail to agree on the specifics, then lawmakers from both chambers will meet in a joint conference committee to establish compromise legislation. With a Democratic majority in both chambers, the legislature is expected to create a bill that will pass the General Assembly and be signed by the governor.

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