The Connecticut State House of Representatives narrowly approved current Associate Justice Andrew McDonald’s elevation to chief justice, with one Republican acting as the de facto deciding vote.
McDonald won approval from the House by a 75-74 margin. Four Democrats defected and voted with Republicans, as the nomination now heads to the Connecticut Senate for consideration.
"Justice McDonald is not only eminently qualified, but he is ready," Rep. William Tong, who shares the city of Stamford as a hometown with McDonald, said as he brought him up for confirmation on the Senate floor.
McDonald is a longtime ally of Governor Dannel Malloy. He served as corporation counsel for the city of Stamford when Malloy was mayor, represented Stamford in the State Senate, and later took a job in the Malloy administration as his top legal adviser.
Republicans, nearly unanimous in their opposition, refused to entertain the notion that politics was the reason they did not want McDonald at the top of the judicial branch.
“This is not political because of a political party,” Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee.
Rebimbas beat back accusations from McDonald allies that Republican opposition was rooted in the fact that McDonald was openly gay, and would become the first openly gay chief justice in the United States, if confirmed.
"I’d like to make it clear that the sexual orientation of this or any nominee that comes before us is not a factor," Rebimbas said.
Republicans instead pointed to his decisions in the state’s death penalty, and refusal to recuse himself, as a top reason for opposing his nomination. They said they viewed that as a possible ethical violation or at least a poor judgment on his part.
Democrats countered by discussing at length how McDonald has been endorsed by just about every legal institution in the state including most of the largest law firms in the state, as well as all three deans of the state’s law schools: Yale, Quinnipiac and UConn.
Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz said the opposition appeared to be viewed through the lens of the 2018 election.
Since Malloy is so unpopular in the state, Republicans felt they could make a safe vote against McDonald, knowing it would help them in the Fall, he opined.
Aresimowicz said that tack was straight out of the Republican playbook in Washington D.C.
"They picked the wrong fight," Aresimowicz said. "The judiciary is clearly not a political subdivision of the legislature and by doing this, this is going to cost them in the general election."
Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney announced Monday afternoon that the Senate would consider McDonald’s nomination before the end of March.
McDonald’s nomination could face long odds in the Senate, as one Democrat has recused herself from voting on the nomination, leaving Republicans with a one vote majority.