A HISTORIC DAY AT THE SUPREME COURT[Posted February 1, 2011] The Supreme Court of Virginia sees several noteworthy shifts today. This is the day on which Justice Cynthia D. Kinser moves to the center chair to formally become the first female chief justice in the long history of our commonwealth. My best guess is that while she is keenly aware of the landmark nature of this change, she’s probably quite busy sorting out the many tasks she needs to undertake as the head of Virginia’s judicial system, the principal spokesman for the court, and the many other administrative and ancillary duties that are assigned to her by law.
There are two other notable changes. Justice Leroy R. Hassell becomes (as far as I know) the first person in our history to step aside from the position of chief justice and remain a full member of the court (as opposed to taking senior-justice status). Until his eight-year tenure as the chief, the center chair was merely a matter of longevity on the court; whichever justice had had the longest tenure on the court was automatically the chief justice. Before 2003, the only ways to cease being the chief justice were to resign, retire, or die in office. (We’ll leave aside the prospect of removal under Art. VI, §10 of the Constitution of Virginia, as I seriously doubt that that has ever happened to a sitting chief justice.)
Today also marks the 20th day since the 2011 legislative session convened, so it marks the mandatory-retirement date for Justice Lawrence L. Koontz, Jr. Justice Koontz has indicated that he’ll stick around as a senior justice, raising the number of senior justices to the statutory ceiling of five. The General Assembly will elect his successor, who will become the 101st justice in the court’s long history, later this month.