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Senate Rejects Andrew McDonald As Connecticut Supreme Court Chief Justice

Mar 27, 2018

The Connecticut state Senate has voted down the confirmation of Andrew McDonald to be the state’s next chief justice. It failed largely because of unified opposition from Republicans, who made up 18 of the 19 “no” votes.

“I regretfully acknowledge that I have been unsuccessful in my effort to be confirmed as Chief Justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court,” McDonald said shortly after the resolution failed. “In this turbulent personal moment, I don’t know what the future holds for me.”

McDonald, currently serving as associate justice, was nominated by Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy.

Michael Marciano, state bureau chief for the Connecticut Law Tribune, said this process has further brought politics into judicial nominations -- and that could set a new precedent.

“Other judicial nominees could end up being drawn out because of political battles,” Marciano said. “That could happen in committee, which has historically been bipartisan and collegial.”

Marciano said McDonald’s role in the controversial 2015 State v. Santiago decision was fresh on the minds of Republican lawmakers. McDonald was one of four justices whose decision ended up outlawing the future use of the death penalty in the state.

Marciano said Republicans had argued that McDonald’s prior political views tainted his position from the bench.

“Ostensibly, McDonald knew beforehand that this was his position and he had expressed in other venues that this was political thinking on it,” Marciano said. “Andrew McDonald makes a strong argument that everyone has political opinions. How can you make any decisions if you have to recuse yourself based on every opinion that you have?”

John Kissel, a state senator from Enfield, brought up McDonald’s political views during the debate over the confirmation Tuesday.

“Quite frankly, one of the large concerns that I have and others is that, we don’t want an activist chief justice driving this branch of government,” Kissel said.

Mark Pazniokas, the Connecticut Mirror’s Capitol bureau chief, said the process of picking future supreme court judges may now be more political. He said that’s not the way it had been in the past.

“In Connecticut, judges are appointed to eight-year terms with the presumption that they will be reappointed absent good cause,” Pazniokas said. “The big question is—will the next governor abide by that tradition?”

Pazniokas said that in addition to McDonald’s prior decisions being a point of contention, his sexual orientation may have played a factor. If confirmed, McDonald would’ve been the first openly gay state supreme court chief justice in the United States.

“Republicans say that this has been irrelevant,” Pazniokas said. “But the Democratic supporters of Justice McDonald say it cannot be ignored.”

Democratic State Senator Beth Bye, who is also openly gay, addressed that issue during debate in the Senate today.

“I am not in anyway saying that all of those who oppose McDonald do so only because he’s gay,” Bye said. “But it is also obvious that Justice McDonald has been treated and evaluated in an unprecedented way--and in an unequal way--in tone, in substance, and process.”

The lone Democrat to vote against McDonald’s confirmation was Waterbury state Senator Joan Hartley.

Ray Hardman contributed to this report.