- Associated Press - Monday, November 6, 2017

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - When Gov. Dannel P. Malloy makes his pick for the next Connecticut chief justice, the Democrat will have nominated six of the seven people serving on the state’s highest court - a rare feat in the history of the governorship.

Lawyers and other legal affairs observers say the court is rarely partisan, focusing mostly on interpretations of state law that often result in 7-0 rulings.

Occasionally, though, a case comes along that exposes an ideological rift, as it did in a 4-3 ruling that abolished the state’s death penalty in 2015 when the majority and minority criticized each other in dueling opinions. Two cases currently before the court may also expose such a rift - a lawsuit against gunmaker Remington Arms in connection with the 2012 Newtown school massacre and a lawsuit challenging the way the state funds local education.

“They’re not as controversial as you see at the federal level,” said Proloy Das, a Hartford-based lawyer who chairs the appellate practice group at the Murtha Cullina law firm. “Our values aren’t all that different across the state.”

Das and other observers say the biggest impact of the Malloy nominations may be increased diversity on the court.

Malloy-nominated Justices Richard Robinson and Raheem Mullins are black. Newly appointed Justice Maria Araujo Kahn is one of two full-time female justices, joining soon-to-be-retiring Chief Justice Chase Rogers, who was nominated by Republican former Gov. M. Jodi Rell. And Justice Andrew McDonald, also picked by Malloy, is the court’s first openly gay member.

“What distinguishes the Malloy court is diversity, as opposed to any particular ideological or philosophical lineup,” said Timothy Fisher, dean of the University of Connecticut School of Law. “You’ve got a lot of different knowledge bases and experience bases to draw from.”

Experts note that two Malloy nominees to the Supreme Court, Robinson and Kahn, were first nominated as lower court judges by Republican former Govs. John Rowland and Rell, respectively. They join Justice Richard Palmer, who was nominated to the Supreme Court in 1993 by independent Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr., a former Republican.

Justice Gregory D’Auria also was nominated by Malloy, bringing the number of Malloy nominees currently on the court to five.

A Malloy spokesman said there is no timeline for him to nominate a successor to Rogers, who recently announced she will retire in February. With the departure of Rogers, the governor gets his first chance to nominate a chief justice.

The last governor to nominate so many justices was Democratic Gov. William O’Neill, who picked 10 justices during his tenure from 1980 to 1991.

When asked about Malloy getting to nominate six of the seven justices on the court, Connecticut Republican Party Chairman J.R. Romano said the state GOP had more pressing concerns, including fixing the state’s deficit-plagued finances and helping working families.

“I can’t remember anything outside of the death penalty that’s been a hotly contested topic,” Romano said of the court.

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