(Updated 7:38 p.m.) The future of nine judicial nominees is still up in the air as lawmakers speed to the end of the legislative session. With close to six hours left and a budget still hanging in the balance lawmakers admitted Wednesday afternoon that passage of the nominees presents a “challenging sequencing problem.”
What will happen first the budget or the judicial nominees?
Sources say the Senate will take up the budget first, then Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell will send out a statement saying she’ll sign it in its entirety, and the House will then start voting on the nine judicial nominees.
The complicated sequencing procedure is necessary because the money the Judicial Branch needs to keep courthouses and law libraries open is included in the budget now and not a separate bill as originally proposed.
Rep. Michael Lawlor, co-chairman of the Judiciary Commission, said there was an amendment on the stand alone bill that would change the reporting requirements for the Judicial Selection Commission, which decides whether an attorney is able to be nominated to the bench.
Black and Puerto Rican caucus members raised concerns about Rell’s decision to nominate nine white attorneys and held up the nominations for one day last month. Their nominations were finally approved after Rell promised to nominate a minority to the bench before the end of her tenure. But a lot of the criticism still lingered. Frustrated with the secretive nature of the commission, which doesn’t let lawmakers know the race or ethnicity of the candidates it interviews, black and Puerto Rican caucus members and the Judiciary Committee co-chairman said they would like to see more information.
The changes to the Judicial Selection Commission suggested by the Judiciary Committee co-chairman and black and Puerto Rican caucus members were drafted as an amendment to the Judicial Branch budget bill, which has since been included in the overall budget bill. Now the amendment, which requires the commission to report the race, gender, national origin, and religion of candidates it interviews, has no where to go.
In a joint statement the co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee sent out a joint statement saying that the budget bill “includes explicit language which addresses the two concerns we had identified: The integrity of the Judicial Branch and the diversity of judicial appointments.”
“We join the legislative Black and Puerto Rican Caucus in calling for new initiatives aimed at identifying qualified African-American, Latino and Asian candidates for judicial appointments. The language included in today’s budget document will assist us in this effort,” Lawlor and Sen. Andrew McDonald said in the statement.
Rep. Arthur O’Neill, the Republican ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, said at the moment it’s a trust issue between the two chambers.
“This is the danger of having the judges tied into all this other stuff,” O’Neill said. “This usually happens with more dignity.”
Rep. Ken Green, D-Hartford, said he’s not sure the language in the amendment addresses all the concerns of the black and Puerto Rican caucus. He said he would like to see three minority groups have appointments to the Judicial Selection Commission itself. He said that way “it’s more than we’ll do better next year.” It would require the commission to have three minorities on it and expand diversity from within.
“It’s more than analyzing data,” Green said Wednesday afternoon. Appointing three minorities to the commission is a low cost way of ensuring diversity.
It’s unclear what will happen to the nominees as the Senate continues its debate on the budget.