Judge Not? Will General Assembly On Monday Elect Controversial Attorney To State Bench?

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May 12, 2012

One of the General Assembly’s most important jobs is to elect judges throughout Virginia. The commonwealth is made up of four levels of state courts is ascending order: General District and Juvenile and Domestic Relations Courts, Circuit Courts, Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court of Virginia. Virginia has 32 districts and within each district there is a court in each city and county.

On Monday, the General Assembly will return to Richmond to deal with Governor Bob McDonnell’s budget amendments and with the appointment of judges. Currently, there are several vacancies throughout the court system. The appointment of state judges usually receives very little public input. Legislators make recommendations to Senate and House committees, which certify that the nominees are qualified members of the Virginia bar, under state law.

One of the individuals who will be voted on by the General Assembly Monday as a nominee for a judgeship, Tracy Thorne-Begland, has a long history of political activism, was at the forefront of repealing the federal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, and once served as a board member and vice chairman for Equality Virginia, the commonwealth’s largest and most influential homosexual activist group. In fact, this nominee for Richmond’s 13th General District Court was with President Obama when he signed the repeal of DADT. Additionally, Mr. Thorne-Begland has lashed out publicly against Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli on a host of issues related to the homosexual agenda, saying, “He’s already stood in the way” in relation to Mr. Cuccinelli’s urging of public colleges and universities to follow state law when it comes to non-discrimination policies. Thorne-Begland also criticized Mr. Cuccinelli for being “against hate crime laws” and “employment discrimination” protections based on sexual behavior.

One statement he made in 2004 in particular stands out. In an interview with Richmond Magazine, Thorne-Begland said, “In Virginia, we’re seeing a different situation. The situation is so hostile to gay and lesbian interests, particularly the judicial system, a lot of gay and lesbians choose to leave.” It’s the “particularly the judicial system” statement that is especially concerning. Does he plan to use his position as a judge to accomplish his political agenda?

In 2004, Mr. Thorne-Begland was asked his opinion of the Marriage Affirmation Act, a law that was the model for Virginia’s Marriage Amendment, and Virginia’s climate toward homosexuals. Mr. Thorne-Begland signaled his optimism and said:

Perfect example: Virginia is the only state in the union that allows businesses to decide whether they can offer health care to gays and lesbians. When progressive representatives in the legislature sought to require businesses to extend domestic-partner benefits, laws are adopted that outright coerce Virginians to accept this way of thinking.

Mr. Thorne-Begland’s thoughts regarding the use of coercion to change minds and force private businesses to follow his agenda flies directly in the face of free market political principles. The question is, will his personal political agenda take precedent over Virginia law and the constitution? Is he going to uphold laws he clearly and very publicly disagrees with? What does he believe is the role of the courts in moving in a more “progressive” direction? These concerns have come to light in the time since members of the General Assembly’s Judicial Appointment subcommittee interviewed him.

There is additional concern that, once appointed, a progressively minded judge would be fast-tracked by a liberal governor or president to a higher court, such as the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Considering that judges have extraordinary power, one would hope that they would have a commitment to the state and federal constitutions that overrides their personal political agendas. When one is a judicial nominee who has shown himself to be willing to personally violate the law (he violated DADT while in the Navy) and publicly attack a sitting attorney general who is enforcing the law, we share the concerns of several members of the General Assembly, and would hope that it takes a long, hard look at whether that person should elected to the bench.

Until we can be assured he will not put his obvious political agenda ahead of the law, we don’t believe he should be approved.

If you would like to express your opinion to your senator and delegate about the General Assembly’s consideration of Tracy Thorne-Begland to a judgeship, please click here.

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30 Responses to “Judge Not? Will General Assembly On Monday Elect Controversial Attorney To State Bench?”

  1. Steven says:

    Sounds like the only reason the so-called “Family Foundation” oppose this judgeship is because he’s gay. I’m crying in my cereal. Lame.

  2. familyfoundation says:

    Steven: Please re-read. We oppose him for his policy positions, the obvious nature of which is that he would legislate from the bench rather than adjudicate; his disregard for an amendment to the state constitution, which judges must uphold; and for his public statements regarding the attorney general, which obviously create a conflict with someone who may hear a case involving the AG’s office. He is the one who has publicly states his lifestyle. That’s part of the record. We can’t help that. What you’re saying is that anyone we disagree with philosophically, if they’re open b/c that openness preempts a discussion on his/her record. Sorry, but being open can’t be used as a shield and has nothing to do with our opposition to him. If he was heterosexual or in the closet we’d still oppose him given his statements and record. – Steve, The Admin

  3. […] Thorne-Begland has a “long history of political activism,” claims The Family Foundation in a blog entry posted […]

  4. Dave says:

    All people have opinions. All judges are people.

    All judges have to decide cases on laws that they might not agree with. Conservatives judges are duty-bound by some liberal laws, and Liberals judges are duty-bound by some conservative laws.

    In his MANY years as prosecutor can you point to an example where he has failed in his duty to the law because of his personal beleifs?

    Why do you think he would start now?

    Its a long, long way from the general district court bench to the 4th circuit court of appeals. Even if “fast tracked”, he would have a history developed along the way, and when the time is right, if his history is anything other than extrodinary, then speak up then.

    By your comments now, without a single example of how he has violated the public trust despite being granted the public trust for 10+ years as a prosecutor, your opposition sounds ignorant.

    But then again, if you had made more rational decisions, this website wouldn’t be in the news, would it…

    So I guess congratulations, you got more unique visitors today…

  5. familyfoundation says:

    Dave: Judges in Virginia General District Court can rule on the validity of state constitutional law, just as federal district court judges can rule on the constitutionality of federal law (we’ve seen federal district courts rule on marriage, Obamacare and the like). So, his liberal views are the basis on which we oppose him. Contrary to what you say, we have cited examples of his positions and activities as a board member of a certain organization that indicate his views on non-criminal matters are not in the mainstream. We would hope a prosecutor would be a good judge on criminal matters, but that is not the issue.

    You are employing the typical leftist tactic of assigning a motive and asserting what we believe to be fact as you deem it in order to demonize us. If he had not disclosed his orientation, we would still oppose him. You can’t use his open homosexuality as a hammer on us. Furthermore, elections have consequences: Why should a conservative legislature confirm a left of center judge? I’m sure you would object if the GA had swung the other way last year and considered the election of an outspoken conservative.

    You say we are not rational. Again, name calling on your part and no real counter to our position. As for being in the news, please cite? We’ve been here for almost five years. We state our opinions. Last I heard, we had every right to express them, and we let you express yours here as well. We don’t censor as some sites do. But our opinions are consistent. If that’s newsworthy, it is only because some in the media and the left find it unusual for people in this day and age of sticking to their principles. – Steve, The Admin

    • Dave says:

      For what its worth, Virginia judges can rule on federal constitutional issues and federal judges sometimes have to decipher state law. Thats besides the point.

      The point was that he has liberal views, so do other judges that are being approved.

      The point was despite his liberal views, you can’t point to an instance where he has failed in his fidelity to the law in his professional life despite his being a prosecutor for 12 years.

      Did you wage a war against other appointments who have liberal views?

      You have alleged I use a straw man to attack. You motives to me seem clear, I say you oppose this gentleman because he is gay. You tell me its because of his views. But others share his views and go unattacked. Where have I erred in my conclusions? Do you contend its just that he is more liberal than anyone else?

      To accuse you of being irrational is not “name calling” it is argument. Likewise to say that your evidence sounds ignorant is not the same as calling you stupid. If you want to be called names, check out the facebook posts in the richmond times dispatch article where it is announced you won this fight, you will not find them here.

      You say my accustaion of your irrationality offers no counter to your positon. It does not. My accustaion of your being irrational was the summation of point that 1-he has held these views for years, 2-he has held the public trust for years, and 3-despite being a public servant for years and having these views for years he has left no record or trace of a instance where he has done anything other than be faithful to the law.

      I did not call you names and will not because I agree with your right to express your opinions. And I thank you for publishing mine. I think you are wrong. I wish I were just better at arguing so that I could make you see it. I hope someday you do.

      • familyfoundation says:

        Dave it is not beside the point that he can rule on various laws. That’s the entire point because that’s what judges do. You guys can level all the accusations you want, the fact is people with fine personal records are not confirmed all the time because of their perceived philosophy. It may not happen as often, or as in well known for state judgeships, but it happens.

  6. Nick Christie says:

    You do realize that Tracy Begland-Thorne signed up and excelled as a fighter pilot in the United States Navy. You also realize that the military is an organization where he served and thrived despite knowing that it would throw him out, with no honors and no gratitude, upon discovering his sexuality.

    Are you aware of the kind of hard work and discipline it requires to excel in flight school, combat training, and then to become part of a carrier flight group? Do you also know the kind of discipline it takes to achieve phomenally in an organization that will openly disregard your sacrifice and skills at a moment’s notice? Self- discipline is one thing Mr. Begland Thorne has proven to the entire world. Enormous self-discipline, as his excellent academic record at the University or Richmond and his professional record in the Richmond legal community further demonstrate.

    Tracy Begland-Thorne has more honor, integrity, and self-discipline than perhaps any single human being I have ever met. When his sacrifice, his character, and his “ability to uphold the law” are questioned, then we as a country have failed the very heroes who sign up to make our country better. Both in our military, and in our communities.

  7. familyfoundation says:

    Nick: Thank you for your comment. I thank anyone who wore the uniform and defended our country. This isn’t a personal thing, as I explained. Military or not, Ivy League or not, prosecutor or not. It’s about philosophy and his stated positions, just as I oppose anyone of any background if his or her views are in conflict with a conservative philosophy. – Steve, The Admin

  8. Liza Steele says:

    The thing that none of the Christian conservatives are sufficiently reflective to recognize is that rejecting a judgeship candidate out of “fears that his sexual orientation will influence his judicial decisions” is nothing more than—–doing just that. It’s simply that, representing the majority sexual orientation, they reserve the right to do it, as if might were right. They actually reject someone out of fear that his sexual orientation will influence his decisions even as their rejection is nothing more than the influence of their OWN sexual orientation on THEIR decisions. But a hallmark of conservative religious Republicans is the double-edged sword of: poor critical thinking skills and a lack of introspection. The result is consistent and grave hypocrisy wrapped in arrogance.

  9. Ryan says:

    I was born and raised in Henrico County and attended the University of Virgina. After graduation I chose to leave this hateful state to begin my career and business in a more fair-minded, less hateful state. Ultimately, it’s the anti-gay discrimination and hotile attitude toward gays and lesbians and their families (such as that promoted by this organization that is supposedly “pro-family”) that drives me and many others to leave Virginia. It’s particularly hurtful that when I come home with my partner to visit my family and friends I have no rights or protections under Virginia law. I am second class citizen in the eyes of the law as crafted by this organization.

    • familyfoundation says:

      Ryan: Please give examples as to how you are treated as a second class citizen when you return to Virginia. Are you not allowed to eat at restaurants? Can you not attend certain events? Can you not conduct business in Virginia? Furthermore, if TFF had all the power people say we have, how come it took, for example, years to get an education choice bill approved in the GA? How come it took years to get a property rights Constitutional Amendment on the ballot? It’s not that we have so much power to “craft” laws, but maybe the conservative, traditional values philosophy that is mainstream here, and your ideas are on the far left and not accepted. You can put it down to “hate” but that’s the left’s fall back and not the truth. – Steve, The Admin

      • Liza Steele says:

        Never mind not being able to “eat in restaurants.” It’s the part about not being able to marry or have protections against hate crimes. This will be news to you, Steve: The bias against gay marriage, as applied in our culture, is rooted in Christianity, which is why no one is saying gays should not be able to vote, purchase real property, or get a driver’s license. Those things are not affiliated with THE CHURCH, but MARRIAGE is–at least in popular perception. So guess what that means? That means the denial of gay marriage is unconstitutional on freedom-of-religion grounds. No one in this country has any obligation to believe what the Bible says (or doesn’t say!) about homosexuality. And the Bible is the cultural, if not the official, source for the anti-gay-marriage movement. What does this mean? It means that what the conservative Republicans do is use their own constitutional right to religious freedom in service to violating others’ rights to NOT believe the same thing, by refusing them privileges (marriage) that they associate with the church. And they end with a bunch of chest-thumping about their virtues and their righteousness. Truly, only from the religious right do you get this kind of arrogance and hypocrisy.

  10. Liza Steele says:

    Oh–and let’s don’t forget the “guilty until proven innocent” prerogative of those same self-righteous Religious conservatives:

    “Until we can be assured he will not put his obvious political agenda ahead of the law, we don’t believe he should be approved.”

    The default should flow in the opposite direction here in America, but for the tyranny of Christian conservatism clouding too many average minds.

  11. Liza Steele says:

    A current example of the lack of critical-thinking skills (that I referred to earlier) can be seen in the following statement, made on 5/14/2012, by Steve the Admin, to one of the commenters on this site. Steve says to Dave: “You say we are not rational. Again, name calling on your part and no real counter to our position.” What Steve apparently does not realize is that the phrase, “not rational,” is not an instance of name-calling at all; it is a critical evaluation of the logial premise(s) underlying someone’s point of view. That is the kind of misapprehension that makes conservative Christians a damaging–and frankly dangerous–lot.

  12. familyfoundation says:

    Liza: When I ask that people keep to the issues here, I am accused of not being bale to critically think and that’s NOT supposed to be an insult. I’ve laid out the facts about our opposition. We have a disagreement. It comes down to philosophy. The Left is all about making things over “hate” and will not accept a principled disagreement. By your side’s standards, America’s been “hating” for more tan 225 years, yet people still die for this country and people still do anything to come and live here. If we “hated” so much that wouldn’t be the case. – Steve, The admin

    • Liza Steele says:

      But…Steve….it matters when your “philosophy” stands on hollow or unconstitutional grounds. It’s not that I digress; it’s that I go to the root, while you use the word “philosophy” as a euphemism for biases that use Christianity to punish non-believers (e.g., no marriage for gays) in a country that guarantees freedom of religion.

  13. Liza Steele says:

    To be sure I understand, Steve, a “principled disagreement” means you want to legislate biases against people of a different sexual persuasion on the grounds that the Bible tells you so, in a country where the freedom to NOT subscribe to Christianity–and not be punished for it–is guaranteed? Steve, there is no “principle” in your disagreement. There is only unthinking adherence to dogma and the willingness to deny other people as a means of believing it makes you a better person.

  14. Howard says:

    Steve,

    It appears your organization has won the battle to oppose Mr. Thorne-Begland’s nomination to be a GDC judge. Unfortunately, your organization has thus undermined its credibility in your ostensible war against liberal judicial appointments.

    “There is additional concern that, once appointed, a progressively minded judge would be fast-tracked by a liberal governor or president to a higher court, such as the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.”

    Even if that’s true, you should only oppose such judges WHEN THEY ARE ACTUALLY NOMINATED for a higher judicial position. Do you know what kinds of cases GDC judges hear? Minor civil suits and minor criminal cases. It does not make sense to oppose someone’s appointment to a low-level judicial seat that has no meaningful authority to promote a liberal agenda! It really makes you appear like you are simply promoting an anti-gay agenda (I am not saying you are, but the news coverage for your organization makes it appear that Family Foundation had little genuine reason to oppose this nomination other than an effort to persecute openly gay Virginians. You can be mad at the liberal media’s mischaracterization of you, but frankly, your successful opposition to this judicial appointment was only successful because of conservative fear-mongering against Mr. Thorne-Begland, whose service in the military and the Commonwealth government evince competence and evenhandedness sufficient to be a GDC judge mired in a painfully boring, debt-enforcement and misdemeanor-laden docket).

    It’s highly disingenuous to claim rely on the fact that “Judges in Virginia General District Court can rule on the validity of state constitutional law, just as federal district court judges can rule on the constitutionality of federal law.” GDCs are the lowest courts in any Circuit of the Commonwealth. GDC judicial opinions have no weight outside of their judicial Circuit. Even within their Circuit, appeals from GDC go to the local circuit court, which will suppress any bizarre rulings in GDC within the Circuit. Frankly, if a “politically active” GDC judge issues a bizarre ruling, it will end their chances of EVER being appointed to a higher judicial seat.

    All that said, I appreciate your willingness to keep commentary open on this thread. It suggests you are willing to engage in a dialogue, which I consider to be a positive attribute of your organization, even if I disagree with you.

    • familyfoundation says:

      Howard: Thank you for your comments. We disagree, but we have no objection to frank discussion. The only people that surprises are those easily willing to call us “haters” which does nothing to advance your side’s case. Why people can’t accept that we opposed him on principled grounds and laid out several concrete reasons — his open disagreement with the AG, for example — and seem to forget how the Let actually attempts to DESTROY conservative judges (Judge Bork, Miguel Estrada, Clarence Thomas), speaks for itself. To your credit, you do not fall into that category. – Steve, The Admin

  15. Liza Steele says:

    Steve, I am going to exit our conversation after this post. But I will tell you: I am not a member of the “other side,” as you surmise. I am simply someone who ruffles at the impunity with which people use Christianity as the scapegoat for their social biases, and the degree to which mean-spirited social biases actually are informed by Christianity. To that, something about the church reminds me of Amway. Its adherents love a “system” that comes with big promises–the way Christians love promises of redemption in return for blind adherence. But Amway is a pyramid scheme, and Christian redemption is promised only under the threat of damnation, which makes it tyranny in disguise. There is nothing holy in that. Didn’t you see “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” where in the end that little boy, Charlie, ironically got everything (from Gene Wilder) by refusing it all as previously offered to him? That was a metaphor for this: The idea that life is a linear path to a place called Heaven–if you’ll just behave accordingly!–is an absurd and infantile fantasy.

  16. familyfoundation says:

    Liza: Thank you for your time. You are passionate about your point of view. You make numerous points and it appears we both want to bring this discussion to a conclusion. But to briefly address a few points: Fron the beginning of time, marriage has been between one man and one woman. All major faiths believe this. Muslims and Jews, not only Christians.

    31 states have constitutional amendments defining it that way; 45 states, I believe, have statutes with similar wording. So, America is full of “hate”? No. It wants to preserve an institution that only recently has had proponents offer a different definition. Same with bigamy and other non-traditional marriage. Unconstitutional? Not in the states that have adopted such laws. Prohibiting cohabitation or contracts or business interaction? Not that I can see.

    It’s interesting that we seem to be singled out when 30 other states have done the same thing. We have a difference of opinion. If ours was so outrageous, it wouldn’t have merit across such a large spectrum of people, including blacks, Hispanics and, yes, young people as a new AEI study shows. To believe your assertion, one has to suspend belief and accept that all these people and states are vile. It just isn’t so.

    Thanks again for your time. I hope you frequent our site on other topics as well. Would love to know what you think about education, property rights and the many other issues we discuss here. – Steve, The Admin

  17. David says:

    This demonstrates two things in Virginia: that anti-gay discrimination exists, despite Republican claims to the contrary, and that Republican claims of “judicial activism” in Virginia are bogus. The legislature elects judges, so they can vote down what they consider an “activist judge” if they choose. My question is, would the Family Foundation support, or at least not oppose, any gay candidate at all?

  18. Dennis M says:

    Funny that there is nothing in your mission statement about being bigots!

    “family Values” … as long as they match our opinions.

    “Freedom of Religion” … as longs as it’s ours.

    What a bunch of hypocritical bigots! You disgust me.

  19. […] As we posted late last week, Mr. Thorne-Begland has a long history of political activism and received an honorable discharge from the U.S. Navy after going on national television to announce that he had violated federal law, the so-called “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy enthusiastically signed into law by former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, in the early 1990s. More recently, he has made public statements that reveal a personal political agenda that runs contrary to the Virginia Constitution and statute. Many of these concerns did not come to light until after he had been deemed qualified to be a judge by the General Assembly’s Courts of Justice Committees. […]

  20. David says:

    I’ll ask again. Would the Family Foundation not oppose a gay judicial candidate?

  21. David says:

    I suppose a better question might be, under what circumstances would the Family Foundation accept an openly gay judicial candidate?

  22. […] who voted against approving Tracy Thorne-Begland apparently agree with the argument made by the Family Foundation that his record of homosexual activism makes him incapable of ruling impartially and unfit for the […]

  23. Gary Ashcroft says:

    Since when did being pro-family become the exclusive prerogative of conservatives and/or the Religious Right? Throughout your responses to posters here, you have repeatedly referred in a disparaging manner to “leftists” and “liberals.” It seems to me that you are more concerned about promoting wedge issues to further a conservative/Republican agenda than you are about promoting family values. I don’t agree with the idea of gay marriage, but your actions vis-a-vis Tracey Thorne-Begland seem un-Christian and uncharitable. Your apparent opposition to the end of DADT also seems confusing; what impact does allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military have on the traditional family? My father, a lieutenant colonel in the Army, recently returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. He has repeatedly told me that some of his best soldiers were gays/lesbians, and he actually refused to report one of his lesbian NCOs prior to the repeal of DADT. You repeatedly reference the need for fiscal responsibility on this website, yet what is responsible about discharging perfectly competent people from the armed services, people in whom we have invested thousands of dollars worth of training? Again, I am unequivocally opposed to gay marriage, and other measures that would undermine the traditional family, but it increasingly seems to me that groups like yours are more concerned about promoting wedge issues to lend strength to far-right Republicans than you are about promoting the health of the traditional family.

  24. Adam says:

    We do not need a judge with the agenda showed by Tracy Thorne-Begland.

    Like it or not someone’s values come out in there behavior.

    The promotion of homosexuality in any way is the very destruction of mankind.

    Everyone came from man and woman, seems ridiculous to have to say so.

    If someone chooses that life style that’s their choice. Just don’t try to change what is necessary for mankind to flourish. That comes only through man and woman.

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