Both chambers of the legislature approved former Democratic state senator Andrew McDonald’s nomination to the state Supreme Court on Wednesday.
McDonald, a longtime friend of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, will become the first openly gay Supreme Court justice, as well as the first in decades to be appointed without first serving as a judge. Most lawmakers agreed that McDonald was adequately prepared for the bench by his work as Malloy’s top lawyer, a state senator who chaired the Judiciary Committee, and an attorney in private practice.
McDonald was praised by his former colleagues on both sides of the aisle in the Senate where he served for eight years. The Senate approved his nomination 30-3, while the House approved it 125-20. All the lawmakers who voted against him were Republicans.
Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney said he had never felt more comfortable approving an individual to the Supreme Court. He said McDonald had the right qualities for the job.
“While Andrew McDonald’s credentials may be somewhat unconventional, having not been a judge at another level before that, he has the qualities that will make a superb member of the Supreme Court,” Looney said, citing McDonald’s work experience and analytical skills.
McDonald worked as the co-chairman of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee. Sen. Eric Coleman, the committee’s current co-chair, credited McDonald with giving the Judiciary Committee a foundation off of which he said it still works today.
Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said that while he and McDonald disagreed on some policies, he considered McDonald to be an intelligent and fair-tempered individual.
Much of the opposition to McDonald’s nomination stemmed not from his lack of experience as a judge, but rather a bill he proposed as a senator.
The bill would have changed the corporate structure of the Catholic Church, which was dealing with embezzlement issues in parishes in Darien and Greenwich at the time. The proposal, which would have given elected laity more control over the church’s finances, was withdrawn after 4,000 Catholics traveled to the Capitol to protest the bill.
Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury, called the legislation “a direct attack on the Catholic Church in the state of Connecticut.” McLachlan voted against McDonald’s nomination during his confirmation hearing in the Judiciary Committee for the same reason.
After the hearing, McLachlan said he hand delivered a letter to McDonald asking him to clarify his testimony regarding the origins of the bill. During the hearing McDonald said it was drafted at the request of a constituent, but McLachlan quoted a CTNewsJunkie article from 2009, in which the same constituent said the bill went too far.
McLachlan said McDonald never responded to his letter. He asked Coleman whether it was common for a judicial nominee to “reject the courtesy of a response” and ignore a request from a lawmaker.
Coleman said he was at a loss to answer McLachlan’s question.
“Is the senator asking me to respond to what he perceives to be Sen. McDonald’s lack of courtesy?” he asked.
McLachlan said it was unfortunate McDonald never responded to the letter. He said his question addressed why he voted against the nominee in the Judiciary Committee. He said McDonald’s bill violated the First Amendment.
Sen. Joseph Markley, R-Southington, also objected to the bill, which he called “the most questionable” legislation from a constitutional point of view “in living memory.”
“I think that weighs very heavily against him,” Markley said.
In the House, some lawmakers made similar arguments against McDonald. Rep Marilyn Giuliano, R-Old Saybrook, said people around the state recognize his name because they associate it with controversy.
Other lawmakers defended McDonald as simply representing one of his constituents. Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, R-Naugatuck, said lawmakers are often asked to pursue causes for the people they represent.
“We do, to the best of our abilities as state representatives and as senators, try to promote the success passage of any bill that any constituent of ours brings to our attention that we believe in,” she said.
House Republican leader Lawrence Cafero said he disagreed with McDonald on a lot of things including the bill concerning the Catholic Church. But Cafero said he believed McDonald could set aside the partisan aspects of his personality in favor of fairness.