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From the Archives: Openly gay Navy veteran rejected for judgeship by Virginia legislature

Openly gay Navy veteran rejected for judgeship by Virginia legislature
May 16, 2012 1:40 AM MST

Virginia state capitol Richmond Thomas Jefferson architect General Assembly Rick Sincere
How often does a state legislature’s vote on the appointment of a local traffic-court judge win the attention of the New York Times, MSNBC, Washington Post, and other national news outlets?

Not often (if ever), except when, as in the case of Virginia judicial nominee Tracy Thorne-Begland, the proposed judge is openly gay and the only one of dozens of similar prospective judges rejected by the state House of Delegates.

Thorne-Begland, a prosecutor for the past decade in the Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office, was sponsored by Republican Delegate Manoli Loupassi and two colleagues to fill an open slot in the city’s General District Court, which has jurisdiction over traffic offenses, small claims, and petty crimes.

Bob Marshall intervenes

Thorne-Begland’s nomination was vociferously opposed by U.S. Senate candidate Bob Marshall, who represents Manassas and parts of Prince William County in the House of Delegates. Marshall said that Thorne-Begland, a Navy veteran who served as a pilot during the first Gulf War, was unsuitable for the job because of his previous activism on behalf of the civil rights of gay citizens and because he is legally married to his same-sex partner even though Virginia’s constitution forbids same-sex marriage.

Marshall argued that Thorne-Begland could not be trusted to uphold the law in a neutral, judicious manner because, like Marshall himself, he is outspoken on gay-rights issues.

Thirty-three legislators voted their approval of the nomination, which had sailed through the Republican-dominated Courts of Justice Committee without controversy. Thirty-one voted against the nomination, while ten abstained and 26 were absent for the 1:00 o'clock a.m. roll call. A majority of 51 votes was necessary for the nomination to succeed.

Social media outrage

Virginia lawmakers and voters took to social media to register their outrage at the vote.

Tracy Thorne-Begland Jennifer McLellan Virginia state senate gay rights
Shortly after the vote, at 1:16 a.m., Delegate Mark Keam (D-Fairfax County) tweeted a photo of the vote display board in the House of Delegates and said, “VA House voted down Tracy Thorne-Begland as a General District Court Judge. First nominee rejected in my 3 years here.”

State senator Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) posted on his Facebook wall:

“I'm glad this is being noticed and criticized widely! My worst day in nine years in the General Assembly. I can't imagine how Tracy Thorne-Begland feels.”

State senator Mark Herring (D-Loudoun County) also posted on Facebook:

“The treatment that Mr. Thorne-Begland received by the General Assembly, well after midnight Tuesday morning, was disgraceful and offensive... Together with many of my fellow Virginians, I am embarrassed by what I witnessed take place early this morning.”

Elsewhere on Facebook, Richmond City Council member Charles Samuels wrote:

“It’s rare that I comment about the decisions of other elected bodies, but I have to say that the decision to vote down the judicial sponsorship of Mr. Tracy Thorne-Begland in the General District Court for the City of Richmond surprises, disappoints and frustrates me.”

Delegate Jennifer McLellan (D-Richmond) posted her floor speech on the matter on YouTube, noting that Thorne-Begland "was willing to fight and die for his country but he was not willing to lie about who he was to continue to serve."

On Twitter, the Virginia ACLU stated:

“We don't take positions on judicial [appointments], but shame on [Virginia] House for rejecting Thorne-Begland [because] he's gay.”

Lawyer Brian Schoeneman, a 2011 candidate for the House of Delegates, headlined an article on the widely-read Virginia politics web site, Bearing Drift, “Vote against openly gay judicial nominee another black eye for Virginia.”

Schoeneman wrote that “the vote last night was wrong. We let irrelevant issues cloud the real question – whether Thorne-Begland was qualified and would be competent in doing the job of a General District Court judge – with conjecture and character-assassination. Those are the only questions that matter, and we ignored them by bringing his past activism into play, especially when it would have little impact on the job.”

That article, published on a conservative web site, drew 71 comments by late Tuesday evening, a few favoring the negative vote against Thorne-Begland but most agreeing with the view that the vote was shameful.

Based on those comments and others, many Virginia political activists anticipate that this legislative vote will result in ridicule by late-night TV comedians like Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Jay Leno.

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on Examiner.com on May 16, 2012. The Examiner.com publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to Examiner.com since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

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