Perhaps there is no greater compliment that can be paid a man than to make a verb out of his name. Judge Robert Bork, who was nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan in 1987, was attacked by Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee for his views on abortion, affirmative action, and civil rights. After Bork’s nomination to the high court was derailed, any candidate who was attacked and prevented from gaining public office was said to have been “borked.”
Gov. Dannel Malloy’s nominee to the state Supreme Court, Andrew McDonald, could face a similar fate — though it should be noted that his name does not lend itself to verbing (McDonalded?). McDonald, a former state legislator and chief counsel to Malloy, would be the first openly gay member of the court. That in itself speaks volumes about where we are on the subject of homosexuality.
As of this writing, only the arch-conservative Family Institute of Connecticut has targeted McDonald, a staunch advocate for gay, lesbian, and transgender rights when he was a state senator and chairman of the Judiciary Committee. In an email blast to its faithful supporters, the FIC was apoplectic: “Andrew McDonald should not be rewarded for attacking marriage, religious liberty, and the right of women not to have men in public restrooms with them.”
Of the three transgressions alleged by FIC, the first and last are bogus, paranoid and probably bigoted. The second, however, could be problematic. In 2009, McDonald proposed — and later withdrew — a bill that would have stripped the hierarchy of all Catholic churches in Connecticut of their fiscal and administrative authority and placed that authority in the hands of a governing lay board.
If passed, the legislation could very well have run afoul of the First Amendment. That’s not exactly the kind of mistake you’d expect from someone who aspires to the state’s highest court. That’s why Sen. Michael McLachlan was one of only two members of the Judiciary Committee to vote against McDonald’s nomination.
McDonald later apologized for the bill (sort of), though some have doubted his sincerity. McDonald’s contention that he did not author the bill, but that it was proposed and written by constituents in Greenwich and Darien, rings hollow, especially since, as columnist Don Pesci has pointed out, he won’t release the original version he says was drafted by those parishioners in Fairfield County.
But McDonald has an otherwise strong record as a public servant and is certainly entitled to the mistake for which he has expressed regret. Realizing this, other Republicans opposed to his nomination have raised the issue of McDonald’s lack of experience on the bench. That’s nonsense.
After serving as governor for four years, Republican Ray Baldwin sat with distinction on what was then called the Connecticut Supreme Court of Errors for 16 years, the last six as chief justice. What was Baldwin’s previous experience on the bench? He was a town court judge in Stratford for two years.
When he was nominated by President Dwight Eisenhower to be chief justice of the United States, former California Gov. Earl Warren had never been a judge. Agree with him or not, Warren went on to amass one of the most impressive judicial legacies of anyone to serve on the Supreme Court.
This raises the fundamental question of what kind of person we want on the highest court in the state or in the nation. Do we want people who have been judges or academics all their lives? Or do we want someone who knows the law, has significant life experiences beyond the bench and also understands how the co-equal branches of government work. As someone who has worked as a legislator, chief legal counsel to the governor, a top litigator at a law firm, and a strong advocate for civil rights, McDonald fits the bill.
And, with the exception of that little boneheaded idea, he has a pretty good record, too. The General Assembly should confirm McDonald. Then they will proceed to raise our taxes and cut aid to our towns and schools. The good, the bad, and the ugly all in one session.
Terry Cowgill blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com and was an award-winning editor and senior writer for The Lakeville Journal Company. He can be found on Twitter @terrycowgill.