- Associated Press - Monday, February 26, 2018

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Connecticut chief justice nominee Andrew McDonald denied Monday that he’s an activist, a claim made by some critics who want legislators to oppose Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s choice to oversee the state’s highest court.

Conservative groups have accused McDonald, a former state senator from Stamford and longtime friend of the governor, of putting his own liberal political beliefs ahead of the law.

“No, I am not,” McDonald, 51, said during his confirmation hearing Monday, when asked whether he’s an activist by Rep. William Tong, D-Stamford, a co-chairman of the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee. McDonald has been an associate justice on the Connecticut Supreme Court since 2013.

McDonald noted that as a state legislator, he worked to pass a law ensuring “judges do not interpret the law in a manner that is inconsistent with the plain language of the law.” He also said Monday that accusations of judicial activism have been made by both liberals and conservatives in the U.S.

Such claims that personal opinions of judges are driving the outcomes of cases “apparently is in the eye of the person who dislikes the opinion,” he said.

McDonald’s critics cite two cases in particular.

One involves unsuccessful legislation McDonald supported as a state senator that would have given lay members of the Roman Catholic Church more control over parish finances. The other involved a law passed by the legislature and signed by Malloy, when McDonald was the governor’s legal counsel, that eliminated the death penalty, but only for future crimes. Malloy administration officials have said McDonald had little to do with the bill.

McDonald’s nomination to an eight-year term as chief justice, replacing the retired former Chief Justice Chase Rogers, has generated stark contrasts of opinion. McDonald, who would be the first openly gay chief justice of a state Supreme Court in the U.S. if confirmed, has been lauded as a fair-minded and brilliant jurist who deserves the job. His confirmation has been recommended by the Connecticut Bar Association and the deans of the University of Connecticut and Quinnipiac Law Schools.

But the General Assembly’s Conservative Caucus announced its opposition to McDonald on Monday morning, claiming the nominee lacks the necessary experience for the job because he didn’t serve previously as a superior or appellate court judge.

Justice McDonald has an extremely limited track record to follow or critique,” said Rep. John Fusco, R-Southington.

McDonald noted he has authored approximately 100 opinions, including 69 majority opinions and 15 dissenting opinions. He also was a partner with the law firm of Pullman & Comley from 1991 to 2011.

“I have known Andrew McDonald for most of two decades, and have been impressed throughout our interactions with his intelligence, integrity, hard work, and deep dedication to serving the people of the state of Connecticut,” said Timothy Fisher, dean of the UConn law school, in written testimony. Fisher said his greatest concerns are with the “process and character of the discussions” around McDonald’s confirmation.

“We are all conscious of the high level of polarization in our country,” wrote Fisher, urging the lawmakers to base their decision regarding McDonald’s confirmation “on criteria, that if employed in opposition to a nominee you supported, you would likewise appreciate and respect.”

Committee members were expected to vote Monday on McDonald’s nomination, which still needs approval from the House and Senate.

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