UPDATE, 3:30 p.m. -- Former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has withdrawn from consideration for the state Supreme Court, said Republican Sen. Ryan McDougle of Hanover County.
The House of Delegates and state Senate are expected to elect Court of Appeals Judge Stephen McCullough on Thursday to fill a vacancy, he said.
"He will be the next Supreme Court justice," McDougle said.
Cuccinelli's name coming under consideration prompted a backlash from liberal groups at odds with his conservative positions on abortion, gay rights and other issues.
McDougle said Cuccinelli was "very interested" in the position but he and his family "ultimately came to a different conclusion," notifying lawmakers Wednesday that he did not want to be considered. There was then quick movement toward McCullough, he said.
The vacancy has been the subject of partisan arguing since last summer.
It is the duty of the General Assembly to elect judges, but the governor can make interim appointments that expire 30 days after a new session convenes.
McAuliffe appointed Jane Marum Roush to the high court but Republicans, saying he did not properly consult them, said they preferred another candidate, Appeals Court Judge Rossie Alston.
Roush's appointment expired last month. But Republicans have been unable to elect Alston because rebel Republican Sen. Glen Sturtevant of Richmond backed Roush.
Sturtevent said Tuesday he supported Cuccinelli because the former attorney general had not been politicized in the process.
The House Courts of Justice Committee was expected to interview McCullough on Wednesday afternoon.
Cuccinelli's withdrawl came as a relief to liberal activist groups, who coordinated a protest at the Capitol on Wednesday after news surfaced that he was under consideration.
Republican House Speaker Bill Howell issued a statement saying all 66 GOP delegates will back McCullough:
"There is unanimous support within the House Republican Caucus to elect Court of Appeals Judge Stephen R. McCullough to the Supreme Court. Judge McCullough has served Virginia with distinction for over 19 years. He is an experienced appellate judge, who has previously been endorsed for the Supreme Court by every major bar association."
McCullough was senior appellate counsel in Cuccinelli's office before being appointed to the Court of Appeals in 2011. -- Patrick Wilson
Progressive groups such as Planned Parenthood and gay rights activists were quick to rally to the fast-moving news that former Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli, a hard-right firebrand, is likely to be the newest justice of the State Supreme Court.
About 50 demonstrators, some holding signs that read, “Stop the Republican War on Women” and “Keep Ken Out,” chanted at the Bank Street entrance to the State Capitol Wednesday morning. From there, they walked to the state Senate gallery. Debate on Cuccinelli’s nomination is expected today.
“Kenneth Cucinelli has consistently been one of the most divisive figures in Virginia politics,” said Tram Nguyen, a member of the New Virginia Majority group.
“This came completely out of the blue,” said Emily A. Klinedinst of the Alliance for Progressive Values.
Cuccinelli’s sudden candidacy as a high court jurist seemed to surprise even him. “I am humbled and honored to be considered for such a position,” he said Tuesday, “but it is not something that my wife and I had previously contemplated.”
Cuccinelli, who narrowly lost his race for governor in 2013, won a national reputation for his hard line views on abortion, gay rights, climate change research and other flashpoint issues during his four years as attorney general. Recently he’s been stumping for Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in the presidential primaries.
During his tenure as attorney general, Cuccinelli led a move to limit access to abortion clinics by adding new medical regulations for building where abortions are performed. A similar situation in Texas is being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court -- and includes testimony from a Richmond physician.
Cuccinelli also hounded Michael Mann, a former University of Virginia climatologist, claiming that he had defrauded state taxpayers with his allegedly bogus research into global warming. Cuccinelli is a climate change skeptic.
He announced plans to run again for governor in 2017. Some believe that the speed with which he was nominated was a plot by some Republicans to get Cuccinelli out of the political arena to give Ed Gillespie, a GOP political operative, a better chance to win a shot at governor.
Cuccinelli’s chance at the Virginia Supreme Court resulted when two other justices failed to get support for a replacement seat on the high court.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe backed former justice Jane Marum Roush last year, but ran into strong Republican opposition. The GOP legislators wanted Appeals Court Judge Rossie D. Alson Jr. instead.
Their plans to push forward with Alston were stymied with Glen Sturtevant, a freshman senator from Richmond, thumbed his nose at fellow Republicans and blocked Alston.
Sturtevant, burnishing his new image as a maverick, then supported the idea of recommending Cuccinelli for the seat, because neither Alston nor Roush was approved.
The nomination drew harsh remarks from state Sen. A. Donald McEachin, D-Henrico. He brought up allegations that Cuccinelli failed to disclose some $4,500 worth of gifts from Jonnie Williams, a major prosecution witness in the 2014 corruption trial of former Gov. Bob McDonnell, who was convicted.
Cuccinelli also failed to report a $10,000 stock holding in Williams’ company, McEachin says.
Need a primer? From the Archives: Who is Ken Cuccinelli?
Editor's note: This story reflects a correction to the original version, which reported that Sturtevant put forth Cuccinelli's name as a nominee.