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Explore our coverage of government and politics.

Shumlin Choice Could Influence Future Of Supreme Court

Governor Peter Shumlin will soon have a chance to shape the direction of the Vermont Supreme Court for years to come.

In April, Justice Brian Burgess announced his retirement from the Supreme Court and the formal process to find a successor has just gotten underway.

Last week, Vermont’s Judicial Nominating Board sent a letter out to every lawyer in the state informing them of the vacancy and outlining the application process.

Vermont Law School professor Cheryl Hanna thinks the appointment could have a big impact on the future direction of the Court.

“I do think that the appointment by Governor Shumlin to the now vacant seat is probably going to shift the Court even a little more to the left than it already is,” said Hanna. “And I wouldn’t be surprised if going forward we often saw in at least a few cases Chief Justice Reiber being a lone dissenter where in the past he might have been at the center with Justice Burgess.” 

Hanna believes the field is wide open and she thinks it’s likely that the Governor will select a person who shares outgoing Justice Burgess’s philosophy on law enforcement issues

“You saw in many other cases involving criminal law Justice Burgess very much taking into account the public safety and the state’s interests in law and order as opposed to as being more concerned with the individual rights of criminal defendants,” said Hanna. “Not that he dismissed that but he balanced that against the interests of the state.”

In the fall of 2011, Shumlin appointed Beth Robinson to the Court. Robinson had spent more than a decade actively working for the right of same sex couples to be married. At the time of her appointment, she was the Governor’s legal counsel.

Hanna thinks the Robinson appointment tells a lot about Shumlin’s judicial philosophy.

“My guess is that Shumlin will want to appoint somebody more from the perspective of being a role model on the Court,” said Hanna.  “Somebody like Beth Robinson who brings a great deal of credibility and integrity to the Court as opposed to a particular ideological bent.”

The Judicial Nominating Board hopes to conduct interviews at the end of August and it could forward the names of qualified candidates to the Governor as early as September.

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