Conservative Virginia Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth McClanahan announces retirement

February 9, 2019 by Robert Ayers

In some more bad news from Virginia, a conservative member of the state’s Supreme Court has decided to retire.

On January 25, Elizabeth A. McClanahan, a Virginia Supreme Court Justice of eight years, informed Chief Justice Donald W. Lemons of her intent to retire in September.

The reason behind McClanahan’s departure has not been revealed. Typically, members of the Virginia Supreme Court serve 12-year terms. But the 59-year-old cancer survivor has only been on the bench since 2011, four years shy of the term limit.

McClanahan will officially depart on September 1.

McClanahan’s Legacy

After law school at the University of Dayton Law School in Ohio, McClanahan spent time in private practice, became chief deputy to the Virginia attorney general, and eventually made it on to the Virginia Court of appeals, in 2002, where she remained for two terms. Then, in 2011, she was honored with a spot on Virginia’s high court, becoming only the fourth female to do so.

During her time on the state supreme court, she was a crucial vote in a number of high profile decisions.

For example, in 2016, she was one of the four (out of seven) justices that issued a decision against then-Governor Terry McAuliffe’s executive order that would restore civil rights to 200,000 felons who had completed their sentences and supervised release. And, in 2017, she authored the 6-1 decision that upheld a Virginia law that suspended regulatory reviews of electric utility rates.

For these decisions and others, McClanahan has received the praise of her Republican counterparts in the state’s congress. “McClanahan has served the commonwealth with energy and distinction, bringing credit to the bench by faithfully adhering to and interpreting the Constitution and the Code,” said Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R-James City) upon news of McClanahan’s retirement.

Similarly, Virginia House Speaker, Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) stated that McClanahan’s “commitment to the law of the commonwealth and serving its people has been steadfast and unwavering.” He added that in her replacement, the state Senate “should look for someone who shares her commitment to the rule of law and a faithful reading of the Constitution and the statutes of Virginia as passed by the General Assembly.”

Looking forward

Even though McClanahan’s departure is disappointing news for Virginia conservatives, there is no reason to be too upset. The resignation comes at a time in which Republicans control the state’s legislature — the body that will choose McClanahan’s replacement.

There is good reason to believe that another competent conservative will get the job.

According to reports, four candidates have been interviewed by the Virginia Senate’s Courts of Justice Committee, one of whom is Judge Teresa Chafin, the sister of Senator Ben Chafin (R-VA), who is a member of the Courts of Justice Committee. The other three names have not been made public.

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