After serving as an openly gay state senator from Stamford, Andrew McDonald may soon break new ground by becoming the nation’s first openly gay state Supreme Court Justice.
Next week, state lawmakers will begin the process of considering McDonald, who currently serves as associate justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court, for the court’s highest seat. The former Connecticut state senator has already faced several challenges — including criticism for politicizing the judicial process and for his sexuality. But state legislators have been quick to come to McDonald’s defense.
“He is someone I’ve looked up to for a long time, both for his mind and his spirit,” state Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, said. “He is eminently qualified to be a chief justice.”
On Jan. 8, Gov. Dannel Malloy announced the nomination of McDonald, a longtime friend of the governor, to serve as the chief justice of the state Supreme Court, to replace Chase Rodgers, who retired on Feb. 2. McDonald, a graduate of Cornell University and University of Connecticut Law School, previously served as chair of the Connecticut judiciary committee before his nomination to the state supreme court in 2012. Now, McDonald, who awaits confirmation by the General Assembly, is slated to testify before the judiciary committee Monday. Although many praised Malloy’s pick, tensions over the nomination have mounted over the past month.
McDonald faced negative attacks from the right-wing website Family Court Circus, which accused him of having no qualifications for the position and pushing a “non-Christian” and “un-American” agenda.
“A deviant mole on a mission to undermine American society with LGBT ‘issues,’ like mis-use of a public restroom,” the website said. “The underlying agenda is to destroy a Christian society and its belief, resulting in the complete collapse of a people, a culture, mores and structures.”
Several state lawmakers responded swiftly to the negative attacks on McDonald.
Bye, who sits on the judiciary committee and is also openly gay, said that she is concerned by the website and the rhetoric she has seen on blog posts in response to media stories about the nomination.
State Representative and vice-chair of the Judiciary Committee Steven Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, said that he thinks McDonald’s knowledge and experience will serve him well as the court’s highest justice. Stafstrom said that the opportunity to confirm the first openly gay chief justice should be a source of pride for Connecticut.
Sexuality aside, Republican gubernatorial candidates have raised concerns over whether McDonald brings politics to the courts. Former Trumbull First Selectman and GOP-nominee hopeful Tim Herbst has accused McDonald of engaging in partisan politics and has said that McDonald was only nominated to the bench because of his relationship with the governor, the Hartford Courant reported. Specifically, Herbst questioned McDonald’s vote in favor of eliminating the death penalty in the state in 2015.
“If [former Gov.] John Rowland or [former Gov.] Jodi Rell nominated their best friend and political advisor to serve as the chief justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court, they would have been rightfully excoriated by the political opposition and likely criticized by those in their own party,” Herbst told the Courant.
During his time as a justice, Stafstrom said, McDonald recused himself from involvement in cases in which he may have had a conflict of interest, as he previously served as the chair of the state’s senate judiciary committee.
Other members of the judiciary committee, such as state Rep. William Tong, D-Stamford, have issued statements praising Malloy’s nomination.
And other constituencies have staked a claim in the process — On Feb. 15, 45 lawyers, including Dean of the Law School Heather Gerkin, signed onto a letter urging state delegates to keep politics out of the upcoming judicial confirmation process.
Although it did not specifically mention McDonald, the letter says that reviewing judicial decisions with a partisan lens and with political purposes in mind undermines the independence of a judiciary and the system of checks and balances in government. The letter outlines that judges should not advocate for certain policies, but are “servants” of the law.
“History has taught us that independent, well-qualified, and apolitical courts are a critically important branch of our government,” the letter reads. “We should … not let partisan politics diminish the judicial confirmation process.”
In its highest court, Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, has an openly gay chief justice.
Isabel Bysiewicz | firstname.lastname@example.org