Over the last few days Connecticut has been subjected to a disreputable effort by some Republicans and so-called conservatives to transplant the vicious, unreasoning politics of Washington, D.C., to Hartford; a form of political discourse that puts personal ideology and party power above the public good; a discourse that demonizes the opponent, while trying to maintain a fragile and unconvincing charade of concern for the public’s welfare.
I joined the Republican Party in time to vote for Richard Nixon in 1972 and have remained a loyal member ever since. But my party loyalty, like so many others’, wavers today, because GOP actions, first in Washington and now in Connecticut, have become a national and personal embarrassment. The object of Connecticut Republican spleen today is Justice Andrew McDonald. It should not be so.
The attacks on McDonald have been ill-informed, unfair and barely disguised assaults on Gov. Dannel Malloy and, in some cases, the justice’s personal life. His opponents posit their complaints as concerns about alleged judicial activism and lack of judicial branch administrative experience. Both lines of attack are just so much stuff and nonsense.
No judge is ever appointed to an appellate bench in Connecticut or anywhere else, whether a perceived conservative or liberal, who does not bring ideological baggage along. The question is not whether he or she has a political or philosophical slant, it is whether and how that orientation impacts the judge’s work.
No jurist is an infallible philosopher king; every judge has a political point of view; that is not the issue. The important question is whether the judge takes the law as he finds it and, if inclined to move it toward a particular place, whether he does so with an eye toward precedent and legislative authority; guided by the federal and state constitutions.
Is the prospective judge intellectually honest, whatever jurisprudential course she sets out on? Can his reasoning stand up to examination? Is he or she a person of good character and integrity? These are the questions that should guide the Legislature in addressing McDonald’s nomination, not their dislike of Malloy or a concern that McDonald is a liberal thinker or an activist judge.
I have known Andrew McDonald well for 20 years. He was one of my law partners for 10 years. I have worked closely with him, have observed his thinking process and his approach to the law. I have followed his last five years as a jurist. I disagree with many of his political positions. I take exception to the results of some of his judicial decisions. However, I have not seen any of his writings that were not founded in careful legal analysis, that threw aside precedent without reason or that did not consider the real-world impact of his ruling.
I can attest to Andrew’s character, his intelligence and his good common sense. Arguments that he has never held an administrative office within the Judicial Department are specious. I observed his administrative abilities when he served as Stamford’s corporation counsel. He managed that office efficiently and fairly. More important, he managed it in such a way that it generated a consistent high-quality work product.
One budding gubernatorial candidate took a cue from Washington and alluded to President Donald Trump’s infamous political swamp in attacking McDonald’s nomination. The comment would have been laughable but for its bringing the kind of political rhetoric that has polluted Washington politics to Connecticut. Connecticut does not want—does not need—its politics to be invaded by the kind of vicious ad hominem attacks that have become such a standard part of the sad circus in Washington. McDonald’s nomination to the chief justice’s position should be judged on the merits of the candidate as lawyer and judge, not on the basis of his political connections.
If measured fairly, McDonald stands more than qualified for the chief’s job. He should be resoundingly confirmed by the Legislature. Republicans who stand against him for pure political reasons stand shamefaced before the public. They embarrass the rest of us.
Robert Mitchell, of the Stamford firm Mitchell & Sheahan, is a member of the Connecticut Law Tribune’s editorial board.