Vermont Supreme Court Temporarily Blocks Shumlin's Supreme Court Nomination

Dec 23, 2016

In a Friday ruling, the Vermont Supreme Court temporarily blocked Gov. Peter Shumlin from appointing a new justice to the court.

According to the order from the court, the temporary halt to Shumlin’s appointing power comes after a legal challenge from Republican Rep. Don Turner, the House minority leader.

Shumlin is attempting to fill the vacancy that will be left by Vermont Supreme Court Justice John Dooley, who is leaving the job. Critics, including Turner, say Governor-elect Phil Scott should fill the vacancy once he takes office in January.

The supreme court seat in question will not be vacant until Dooley’s official retirement in April. Since Scott will be governor in April, Turner challenged Shumlin’s legal authority to appoint a new judge to fill a vacancy that will not exist during Shumlin’s tenure as governor.

"How can a governor fill a position that's not vacant at this time, and he will not be in office when the vacancy occurs?" Turner said in an interview Friday.

Shumlin has defended the move by saying that it is his job to fill the role of governor for as long as he holds the office, including by appointing new judges.

Turner said his challenge to Shumlin's authority isn't motivated by a desire to have any specific court justice appointed.

"It's simply the law," Turner said. "I have no preferences on — I don't know any of the nominees, nor do I want to know any of the nominees at this time. It's the governor's prerogative through the process that's outlined in statute."

Turner said he is simply taking issue with the idea that Shumlin will have a Supreme Court vacancy to fill during his remaining time in office.

Governor-elect Scott has been notably absent from the debate about Shumlin's authority to appoint the next Supreme Court justice. In September, Scott suggested that Shumlin should hold off on the appointment of any new justices, but he also said earlier this month that he doesn't plan to try to block Shumlin's effort.

“There won't be anything filed by this administration, my administration, in that regard. What other people do, I have not heard that yet, but we'll deal with that as it comes,” Scott said. “That isn't my highest priority at this point in time."

Turner pointed out in an interview Friday that his legal challenge is his alone, independent of other politicians or political organizations.

The Supreme Court ordered a hearing on the issue to take place at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 3.