The House of Representatives passed legislation Tuesday that modifies under what circumstances a justice on the Supreme Court can hear cases and rejected a Senate amendment that would have also included the Appellate Court. The bill, 156, will make its way back to the Senate for approval in the final day of session. Republicans criticized the rush to attach the Senate amendment that the House rejected Tuesday in a voice vote. Rep. Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said he didn’t understand how legislators could act so quickly on matters so “important to the separation of powers” between the three branches of government.
“We had before us an amendment that changed how the judicial branch did it’s business,” and as legislators ‘we have to be careful messing around with another branch of government.” Judiciary Committee Co-Chairman Michael Lawlor, D-East Haven, said he spoke with Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice David Borden on Sunday who said the court was not opposed to the amendment. Last week Lawlor and Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, alluded to the issue of court packing in relationship to recent events, in which retired Chief Justice William Sullivan withheld a court decision because it could have hurt Justice Peter T. Zarella’s chances of being nominated to the court’s top spot. Rep. Robert Farr, R-West Hartford, said in regards to comments made on court packing “nothing could be further from the truth.” He said according to Attorney Wesley Horton’s op-ed article in the Hartford Courant this past Sunday adding justices when the a five-member panel of the court is split 3-2 is not uncommon. The Chief Court Administrator William Lavery’s addition to the panel was not unusual since Associate Justice Christine Vertefeuille disqualified herself to hear the case, Farr said. Lawlor said there was no reference to court-packing in the recent case. He said it was simply used to convey a hypothetical situation, which a former Supreme Court Justice brought to the legislature’s attention in 2000. He said as the law is written today, a sitting Supreme Court Justice, could be excluded from hearing a case because a semi-retired senior justice was appointed instead, even though the justice was able to hear the case.