Virginia Senate Republicans endorsed the nomination of former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to the state Supreme Court in an effort to break an impasse over a vacant high court seat that has clouded the legislative session.
But Democrats are skeptical that Republicans are serious about appointing the outspoken social conservative and question whether they're using the nomination to gain an advantage in a months-long political squabble.
The Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted along party lines to advance the nomination of Cuccinelli, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2013. The committee vote came moments after the Senate failed to elect Court of Appeals Judge Rossie Alston to the high court.
Alston had been the top choice of Republican leaders, who rejected Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe's selection for Supreme Court, Justice Jane Marum Roush. A Republican holdout, Sen. Glen Sturtevant, blocked GOP efforts to elect Alston.
But Sturtevant supported Cuccinelli's nomination Tuesday and pledged to endorse the former attorney general when the vote comes to the Senate floor. Unlike Alston, Cuccinelli has hasn't been used as a “political pawn” by the General Assembly, Sturtevant said.
“I had hoped that we would have enough votes for Justice Roush, but we weren't able to do that,” Sturtevant said.
Republican Sen. Mark Obenshain, chairman on of the courts committee, said he's confident that his caucus has the votes to get Cuccinelli's nomination through the Senate.
House Democratic Leader David Toscano called Tuesday's endorsement of Cuccinelli “one of the wildest things” he has seen in the General Assembly in a decade.
“Since it's very difficult to rationally figure out why they would do it, you have to think they are doing it for some kind of leverage,” he said. “He's about as political as you can get.”
Cuccinelli, who is currently a top campaign surrogate to GOP presidential hopeful Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment Tuesday.
Top Republicans in the House said they were open to considering the former attorney general as a Supreme Court justice.
Cuccinelli served as Virginia's top attorney between 2010 and 2014 and was accused by Democrats of using the office to promote an ultra-conservative agenda.
He was the first attorney general in the nation to challenge President Barack Obama's health care law. A global-warming skeptic, Cuccinelli also initiated an investigation into whether a former University of Virginia climate scientist used manipulated data to land federal grants.