Delaware Politics: Who Will Gov. Jack Markell Appoint as Chief Justice?
Getting a chief justice confirmed can be a Grinchy affair.
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A judge, so the saying goes, is a lawyer who knows the governor. That would make the chief justice someone who knows the governor really well.
It is time to find out, because Jack Markell, the Democratic governor, has to name a new chief justice.
Myron Steele, a 25-year jurist who sat in the Delaware Supreme Court’s center seat since 2004, announced in September he was retiring on Nov. 30, and Markell is expected to nominate a replacement for Senate confirmation when the next legislative session begins in January.
Steele fit the description. Ruth Ann Minner was the governor who made him the chief justice, and they were Kent County Democrats who went way, way back together to the days Steele was the Democratic county chair and Minner was a state legislator.
Ditto for Norm Veasey, the chief justice before Steele. Veasey was the choice of Mike Castle, the Republican governor, in 1992. Veasey had never been a judge, but he was a senior partner at Richards Layton & Finger, a Wilmington law firm with a century of clout and all the right connections. The firm was usually known by its initials, “RLF,” and it was waggishly said that stood for “Republican Law Firm.”
In fact, Veasey had been Castle’s lawyer when politics took a nasty turn and an irksome lawsuit was filed against Castle and his campaign. Veasey got it thrown out.
Just because the governor wants someone to be the chief justice, it does not mean everyone else does, too.
People think elections can get bad. Ha! Getting a chief justice confirmed can be a Grinchy three-decker sauerkraut and toadstool sandwich with arsenic sauce.
This is not just any appointment, after all, not like being named to the Advisory Council on Tidal Finfisheries.
The chief justice leads the third branch of government, and it matters more here than elsewhere. Delaware’s judicial system is known far and wide for corporate law, primarily because of the storied Court of Chancery. It means prestige. It means a lucrative practice for the corporate bar. It means a mighty stream of revenue for the state.
It means a huge amount of interest in who the chief justice is.