Former state Sen. Andrew McDonald told the Judiciary Committee he once chaired that his diverse background in both private and public legal service and his ability to be a neutral arbiter has prepared him for a role on the state’s Supreme Court.
McDonald appeared before the legislature’s Judiciary Committee on Monday to answer questions about his nomination, including some tough ones about legislation he proposed during his eight year tenure as a state senator and positions he’s taken as the governor’s top legal counsel.
After a more than two hours of questions during the hearing, the Judiciary Committee voted 41 to 2 in favor of his nomination. If the full legislature confirms his nomination then McDonald would be the first openly gay appellate jurist.
Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, an openly gay lawmaker, said she watched McDonald when he was co-chair of the Judiciary Committee handle testimony from people “criticizing the morality of your very family.” During McDonald’s tenure the committee tackled civil unions and was headed toward approving gay marriage when the Supreme Court approved it.
“You sat there very calmly and politely and gave that person as much respect as someone who agreed one hundred percent with you,” Bye said regarding McDonald’s temperament. “I think you’ll make a wonderful Supreme Court justice.”
A handful of lawmakers warned Monday that the 46-year-old is far from being “one dimensional.”
Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said they may have agreed on a lot of “high profile” issues, but he doesn’t recall work with McDonald ever being “disagreeable.”
The Republican even gave McDonald a chance to explain a legislative proposal he made back in 2009 to change the corporate structure of the Catholic Church. The proposal, which would have given elected laity more control over the church’s finances, was withdrawn at the request of constituents after 4,000 Catholics traveled to the Capitol to protest the bill.
McDonald explained that he introduced the legislation at the request of a constituent, who was upset with the embezzlement of more than $1 million from churches in Greenwich and Darien. He said the embezzlement was done within a statutory scheme that’s existed since 1821.
He said he didn’t propose the bill to single out the Catholic Church. The state has a whole set of organizational statutes for various religious denominations.
But McDonald later explained he probably could have reached out to more people in the Connecticut Catholic Conference in drafting the proposal.
“In retrospect, I probably could have reached out to the archbishop and the other bishops and engaged them in a discussion ahead of time before the legislation was raised,” McDonald said.
Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury, said he believes the legislation was unconstitutional and he doesn’t think it was appropriate. That’s why McLachlan voted against McDonald.
Rep. Al Adinolfi, R-Cheshire, also voted against McDonald because he doesn’t believe he has enough experience. He said it’s not fair that McDonald gets elevated to the Supreme Court without first sitting on a lower court.
“To me it was just a political appointment,” Adinolfi, who shook McDonald’s hand and congratulated him after the vote, said.
If confirmed McDonald would become one of three Supreme Court justices who have been nominated to the high court without sitting on a lower trial or appellate court.
Members of the Judiciary Committee also asked him about how he would interpret cases as they came before the court, most of which will be based upon challenges to legislation written by the General Assembly.
Asked if he would be an activist judge, McDonald said he supports the plain language reading of the law.
“I believe it is the right of the legislature to articulate the law as it deems appropriate to the public policy of the state, and the legislature preserves for itself the right to get it wrong,” McDonald told the committee. “If it is wrong it’s the obligation of the legislature to correct that.”
Some lawmakers wondered what made McDonald ready for the Supreme Court.
He said his ability to listen intently and his work ethic. Unlike other judges, who often lean on their law clerks, McDonald said he likes researching and writing a great deal. He said the one area where he feels he needs to improve is the area of family law, which is a practice area he hasn’t had to deal with in his legal career.
In 2004, McDonald started and chaired the appellate practice within the law firm of Pullman and Comley. Since graduating from UConn Law School, McDonald has worked at Pullman and Comley, which he said honored his commitment to public service and allowed him the necessary time to be a state senator for eight years. He took a brief hiatus to become corporation counsel during Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s tenure as mayor of Stamford. In 2010, he decided not to be sworn in to the state Senate so he could take a job as Malloy’s chief legal counsel.
With McDonald’s nomination imminent, Malloy will announce his next chief legal counsel Tuesday, according to sources.