State Senate rejects Andrew McDonald’s nomination as chief justice

HARTFORD  — The Connecticut Senate on Tuesday rejected Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's State Supreme Court chief justice nominee mostly along partisan lines, setting off political reverberations in a state where an open governor's seat and control of the General Assembly are at stake in November.

The Senate voted 19-16 to oppose confirming Associate Justice Andrew McDonald.

Some who supported elevating McDonald to the high court's top job took to Twitter, accusing Republican lawmakers of opposing the former Democratic state senator because he is gay. One Democratic candidate for the House of Representatives said the lack of Republican support for McDonald in the Senate "should motivate progressives across the entire state" to support Democratic candidates.

Andrew McDonald released the following statement: 

At my mother’s funeral I eulogized her, which was one of the hardest things I’ve ever needed to do. Today, I need to do something that is no doubt less difficult, but it is still a task I undertake with great sorrow: I regretfully acknowledge that I have been unsuccessful in my effort to be confirmed as Chief Justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court.

In my eulogy of my mother I shared a lesson she taught me that has always helped to guide me in my personal, professional and public lives.  Whenever I faced a challenging situation, or was disappointed about something that happened to me, she would always remind me, “Andrew, life is not about you.  It’s about those who need you.”  To everyone I tried to help, and to everyone who tried to help me, I am sorry I failed in this endeavor.

And to the LGBT community, particularly its youth who I know have been closely watching this process, I want you to understand that every minority group in history has faced setbacks.  In the fullness of time, those setbacks usually end up becoming a source of strength, a reminder of why the community must continue to press for equality, and a framework that helps shape and develop the next steps of progress.

To Governor Malloy and to the legislators who voted for me – including one particularly courageous and brave one – I want to thank you for your support, encouragement and confidence.  I will never forget any of it.

The enormous honor of leading the Connecticut judiciary as an independent and coequal branch of government will now fall to another.  I am confident that the judges and staff of the Judicial Branch will show that nominee the same level of collegiality and assistance that has been shown to me.

In this turbulent personal moment, I don’t know what the future holds for me.  I do know, however, that I will face it secure in the love and affection of my husband, Charles, and an amazing group of friends and family that I cherish, never more than I do today.

Various Democratic statewide candidates also made a point of pledging support for McDonald during the debate or expressing their dismay with the final vote. Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, who is considering a run for governor, said the next governor should re-nominate McDonald for chief justice, calling him "the right person for the job." He urged other Democratic candidates to take the same stand.

Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said he expects the stunning defeat of McDonald will be a hot topic in this year's election, noting how various groups have been paying close attention.

"The bridge is finally connected between Washington Republicans and Connecticut Republicans based on all 18 state Senate Republicans all voting no on a qualified candidate. It's totally unprecedented," Duff said. "This shows that they are basically bear-hugging the tactics of the Trump administration and (U.S. Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell down in Washington. There's a lot of constituencies out here who will not forget."

Republican Joe Visconti, who recently switched from running for governor to U.S. Senate, fired back at Duff on Twitter, telling him "to get used to it pal" and to "get your Kleenex ready" when Republicans take control of the General Assembly and governor's mansion.

McDonald's nomination narrowly cleared the House of Representatives earlier this month by a single vote. But it was an uphill battle in the Senate, where there are an equal number of Democrats and Republicans. One Democrat had recused herself, requiring GOP support.

In the end, Democratic Sen. Joan Hartley of Waterbury joined all 18 Republicans in opposing the nomination.

Republican senators defended their opposition to McDonald during Tuesday's debate, strongly denying it had anything to do with the jurist's sexuality, politics or McDonald's longtime friendship with Malloy. Rather, they blamed his record and actions over the past five years on the court, his stances as the co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and a heightened concern about judicial activism — an accusation McDonald denied during his confirmation hearing.

Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano of North Haven expressed disgust with the unprecedented robo calls and TV ads that have run in recent weeks accusing the GOP of homophobia and urging them to support McDonald.

"We didn't push back or fight it because to me it's just noise," he said. "Most people who make those arguments make them because they have not analyzed the case and it's an easy fallback position."

JR Romano, the chairman of Connecticut Republican Party, acknowledged there was "a lot of drama happening up at the state Capitol" on Tuesday during a live announcement on Facebook. He accused Democrats of "not wanting to talk about what's really happening" in Connecticut, mentioning a Democratic lawmaker's proposal for a statewide property tax.

"Every day average families need to understand that in the next year, voting for any Democrat would mean more taxes," he said.

"While you hear all of this other drama that the Democrats are creating about Washington, about all of this nonsense in terms of these accusations against Republicans that are unfounded, the reality is, it's because they have failed you," Romano said.

Gov. Malloy responds: