Virginia’s senators have renewed their search for a federal judge based in Roanoke, less than two weeks after the White House publicly spurned their recommended nominees.
Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine announced Wednesday that they would reopen applications for a position of U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Virginia, which has been effectively vacant since December 2017.
When The Roanoke Times reported President Donald Trump was considering U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen for the position, the senators expressed disappointment the White House didn’t go forward with one of their top two nominees, U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Ballou and Scott County Circuit Court Judge John Kilgore.
Ballou and Kilgore had undergone an extensive review process.
That included vetting by the State Bar of Virginia, which deemed six applicants highly qualified.
Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, said the opening of a new application process was unusual.
“That would open the door for Cullen, who didn’t go through the first time, to go through this process,” Tobias said. “And anybody else who applied who is qualified.”
Asked if Kilgore and Ballou would have to reapply, the senators’ offices said, “They will not have to reapply, but the White House has indicated that neither of them will be nominated.”
The senators said an independent panel of lawyers would review qualified applicants.
Kaine and Warner said they will use those insights to make new recommendations to the president.
Tobias said the use of an independent panel, rather than state bar process, was likely to speed up the process. The application period will close Oct. 1.
Presidential nominees almost always come from a list endorsed by the judgeship’s home-state senators.
The nomination requires full Senate approval, which could be hampered if either senator expresses reservations with the president’s nominee.
The last time Tobias could recall a public disagreement breaking out over a federal judgeship in Virginia was 35 years ago.
Sen. John Warner, a Republican, initially resisted President Ronald Reagan’s picks for the Richmond-based 4th Circuit Court of Appeals before he gave a tepid endorsement of Jay Wilkinson. The position based in Roanoke, one of four district judgeships, has gone unfilled since U.S. District Court Judge Glen Conrad announced in December 2017 he would revert to senior status after 41 years on the bench.
That status allows a judge to work part time but triggers a search for a new judge.
Ballou and Kilgore did not respond to messages left Wednesday. Cullen declined to comment.