(Posted January 25, 2021) This morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would revolutionize appellate practice in Virginia. Senate Bill 1261, patroned by committee chairman John Edwards of Roanoke, would bring Virginia into line with every other state in the nation, affording each trial-court litigant an appeal of right. Only in Virginia does an aggrieved litigant have to ask the appellate court to accept the appeal.

The bill would create a system comparable to the federal appellate judiciary, where almost every appeal’s first stop is the Court of Appeals. After that court rules, an aggrieved litigant may petition the Supreme Court for further review.

This proposal started with a recommendation by the nonpartisan Boyd Graves Conference. It then went to a nonpartisan working group formed by the Supreme Court; that group strongly recommended approval. It then went to the nonpartisan Judicial Council of Virginia, and received unanimous backing.

The bill did not, however, receive unanimous support in the Senate committee. It passed 8-6 with one abstention, on a mostly party-line vote. This action sends the bill to the Finance Committee, where it may encounter headwinds.

Personally, I hope the bill emerges and eventually becomes law. Yes, this change will come at a fiscal cost. But I don’t believe we should be the lone jurisdiction to decide that we can’t afford to provide a modern system of appellate justice. As the working group reported, “the model of an appeal of right for the bulk of all civil and criminal cases is universally recognized in the American legal system.” This is one area where the rest of America gets it right. Virginia should join the club.