As Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I was honored to lead Democrats in support of Justice Andrew McDonald during his confirmation hearing to be our state’s next Chief Justice. I started speaking in support of Justice McDonald at 10 am yesterday morning. The committee did not leave the State Capitol until 1:30 am, today.
After an unprecedented 13 hours of testimony before the Judiciary Committee, one thing is certain – Justice McDonald is eminently qualified to serve as Chief Justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court. But many of us were disappointed to see the Judiciary Committee split 20-20 on a party-line vote (with one Democrat voting with Republicans) on the most consequential judicial nomination we are asked to consider.
What is most disappointing are the baseless attacks on Justice McDonald’s “qualifications” and “experience.” Justice McDonald established, by clear and compelling testimony over hours of rigorous questioning, that he is a singular candidate for the job. Few have the breadth and depth of his experience as a lawyer, judge and administrator. There can be no question about Justice McDonald’s judicial bona fides. He has been an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court for over five years, and he is the second most senior justice on the Supreme Court today. In 2013, he was approved overwhelmingly by the Judiciary Committee and the legislature for his current term. Now, some legislators claim that Justice McDonald is not qualified to serve as Chief Justice because he did not serve as a judge before he became an Associate Justice. That makes little sense. In other words, some do not support Justice McDonald’s nomination now because did not have judicial experience five years ago. Except now he does. And in that time, he has participated in almost 500 cases and he has written at least 100 decisions, including 69 majority opinions and many other dissents and concurrences.
The Chief Justice is not just a jurist; he or she is the administrative head of an entire branch of government. As the Governor is to the Executive Branch, and the Speaker of the House and the Lieutenant Governor (and President Pro Tempore) are to the legislature, the Chief Justice runs the operations of the Judicial Branch through the Chief Court Administrator. I can hardly think of any person in our state that has more experience in government broadly and in the administrative functions of state government than Justice McDonald. As a lawyer, he worked as a commercial litigator at a major Connecticut law firm for over 20 years. During that time, he also served on the Stamford Board of Representatives, the Board of Finance, and as Corporation Counsel for the City of Stamford. Following his election to the State Senate, he served as Senate Chairman of the Judiciary Committee for eight years, while continuing in private practice. Justice McDonald then served as General Counsel to the Governor before his appointment to the Supreme Court. In sum, Justice McDonald has served at high levels in each of the three branches of state government—Judicial, Executive and Legislative—and in several other branches of local government. He is also Chairman of the Criminal Justice Commission, which oversees state’s attorneys and public defenders in our criminal justice system. Very few people have ever had this quantum of experience.
It is now up to the entire legislature to consider Justice McDonald’s nomination on his merits, and not according to the politics of the moment. By any standard, Justice McDonald should be confirmed as out next Chief Justice.