Judge Rossie Al­ston Jr. named to fed­eral bench

The Washington Post Sunday - - COMMUTER - BY RACHEL WEINER rachel.weiner@wash­post.com

Pres­i­dent Trump has nom­i­nated Rossie D. Al­ston Jr. to be a dis­trict court judge in the East­ern Dis­trict of Vir­ginia, mov­ing to fill a va­cancy cre­ated in Novem­ber when Judge Ger­ald Bruce Lee re­tired.

Three years ago, Al­ston, who sits on the Court of Ap­peals of Vir­ginia, was en­snared in a po­lit­i­cal bat­tle in the Vir­ginia leg­is­la­ture. Repub­li­cans re­fused to con­firm then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s choice for a state Supreme Court seat, putting Al­ston for­ward in­stead. Ul­ti­mately, the post went to an­other Repub­li­can pick.

But now Al­ston is the bi­par­ti­san choice, rec­om­mended by Vir­ginia’s two sen­a­tors, both Democrats.

“We are pleased that the Pres­i­dent has nom­i­nated Judge Al­ston to the va­cancy and are con­fi­dent his ex­pe­ri­ences on the state bench will serve him well at the fed­eral level,” Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark R. Warner said in a state­ment.

Al­ston still must ap­pear be­fore the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee and be con­firmed by the full Se­nate.

Trump has said he wants to stack the fed­eral courts with strict con­sti­tu­tion­al­ists early in their ca­reers. Al­ston is 61 and, while con­ser­va­tive, is not known as an ide­o­log­i­cal fire­brand.

He worked at the Na­tional La­bor Re­la­tions Board in the Rea­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion and for the Na­tional Right to Work Le­gal De­fense Foun­da­tion, which opposes the abil­ity of la­bor unions to re­quire dues.

In 2016, he wrote a de­ci­sion ar­gu­ing that “co­hab­i­ta­tion” in Vir­ginia law did not ap­ply to same­sex cou­ples; it was over­turned by the state Supreme Court. Re­cently, a panel on which he sat up­held a woman’s con­vic­tion for con­ceal­ing a body after she dis­posed of the re­mains of her still­born child.

But at one point dur­ing the state Supreme Court nom­i­na­tion fight, he sug­gested he was out of step with Repub­li­cans on their stance that busi­nesses should be able to turn away les­bian, gay or trans­gen­der cus­tomers for re­li­gious rea­sons.

“There is no rea­son what­so­ever why any per­son in the United States of Amer­ica should be de­nied equal priv­i­leges that we all en­joy un­der the law,” Al­ston said.

Caitlin Vo­gus, who was a clerk for Al­ston on the state Court of Ap­peals and now works for the Re­porters Com­mit­tee for Free­dom of the Press, de­scribed Al­ston as care­ful and thor­ough.

“His phi­los­o­phy was kind of straight­for­ward — ap­ply the law as he saw it,” she said. “He just wanted to reach the re­sult that was fair and the re­sult that was com­pelled by prece­dent.”

As a trial court judge, how­ever, Al­ston had a rep­u­ta­tion for some­times craft­ing un­usual sen­tences that he felt best fit a crime. A for­mer Vir­ginia state trooper who dropped drunken driv­ing charges against a woman in ex­change for sex had to per­form 3,500 hours of com­mu­nity ser­vice and spend two days in jail ev­ery Jan­uary for seven years, as well as write a pub­lic apol­ogy and get sex-ad­dic­tion treat­ment. A fa­ther of 13 who in­ad­ver­tently let his youngest daugh­ter die in the fam­ily’s van had to spend one day in jail for seven years, vol­un­teer for two hours each week and spon­sor an an­nual blood drive in the girl’s name.

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