After a hearing that stretched on beyond 12 hours, the legislature's Judiciary Committee split evenly 20-20 over whether to forward the nomination of Andrew McDonald to be chief justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court. As promised, politics was front and center at the contentious confirmation hearing, which comes in an election year.
McDonald, a current associate justice on the court, was nominated by Governor Dannel Malloy. He is a longtime friend and political ally of Malloy’s, going back some 30 years, and ran Malloy's first campaign to become mayor of Stamford.
Questioned about his close relationship with the governor, McDonald told the committee it’s not relevant.
“I knew Governor Malloy long before he was governor. I knew Governor Malloy long before he was mayor," he said. "My friendship with the governor is not a function of the office he holds. It never has been.”
Most controversially among some conservatives, McDonald was part of the majority in a 4-to-3 ruling on the court which struck down the death penalty in Connecticut.
McDonald was previously a state senator, known for his liberal views on issues including the death penalty.
Republican lawmakers questioned whether he should be allowed to make rulings on laws he may have been involved in as a legislator, but McDonald told them there’s no precedent for recusing himself in such cases.
“Many times I have had cases before our court where statutes with which I had a role in voting on them have been before the court," he said. "I frankly think that we’re only having this discussion because of the heightened profile of this particular case, but the profile can’t decide the decision, it’s the principle that has to drive the decision.”
The law that was reviewed in the death penalty case was passed by lawmakers in 2012, after McDonald had left the legislature.
McDonald has been characterized by conservative critics as a judicial activist, seeking to insert his own views into the judicial process. But, calling judicial activism a "popular term," McDonald said it's commonly used by those who dislike a particular decision.
The 20-20 vote of the committee means that McDonald's nomination will be forwarded to the full General Assembly, but with an unfavorable recommendation.
During his confirmation as an associate justice in 2013, McDonald was confirmed by a vote of 30-3 in the Senate and 125-20 in the House.
If confirmed, McDonald would replace Chase Rogers, who served as chief justice for the last decade. He would become the first openly gay chief justice in the country.
A vote by the full legislature on McDonald's confirmation is expected March 7.