Edward C. Lee, president of the Connecticut Asian Pacific Bar Association, said people of Asian-Pacific heritage are the fastest growing segment of the state and deserve to be represented, at some point, by an appellate-level judge.
Even though Governor Dannel P. Malloy has shown he is diversity-minded when making judicial nominations to the courts, members of affinity bar associations in the state are watching his next move very closely.
For the fourth time in his administration, Malloy will be called upon to fill a vacancy on the state Supreme Court when Justice Flemming Norcott Jr. reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70 later this month.
A couple of factors, including Malloy’s track record on judicial picks and the fact that Norcott was distinguished as the second black person to serve on the bench, suggest a minority candidate will be selected.
Since Malloy took office in 2011, history has been made with many of his court appointments. His first appointment was Lubbie Harper Jr., now retired, who was the third black justice in the state’s history. Carmen Espinosa, the state’s first Latin American woman was added to the court in Malloy’s second appointment to the bench. Earlier this year, Malloy appointed a gay Supreme Court justice in Andrew McDonald, the state’s first.
Norcott’s departure would leave the high court with no African-American justices.
Malloy “has certainly achieved a level of diversity in the court,” said Timothy Fisher, the dean of the University of Connecticut School of Law. “It’s a diversity not just in terms of personal backgrounds. It’s also a diversity in terms of career paths.”
Malloy has also made strides in diversity of gender, with 10 of the 22 Superior Court nominations he’s made being women.
But there is still room for improvement, advocates for judicial diversity say.
According to the most recent statistics available from the Connecticut Judicial Branch, of the state’s 171-member judiciary, 81 percent are white and 65 percent male. Among minority judges, 21 are black, five are Hispanic and five are Asian.
According to a recent article in the Connecticut Post, judicial observers have named the possible front runner to be Appellate Court Judge Richard Robinson. As the only appellate court judge in the state who is black, Richard is also well known to Malloy. Robinson was the assistant corporation counsel for the city of Stamford when Malloy was mayor.
Another African-American jurist believed to be on the radar is Superior Court Judge Angela C. Robinson, a former Bridgeport lawyer and no relation to the Appellate Court judge.
Malloy’s spokesman, Andrew Doba, would not confirm the names of anyone being considered, but he stressed diversity will be a priority for Malloy. “The governor has always been deeply committed to nominating highly qualified, experienced individuals of diverse backgrounds to serve on the bench,” Doba said.
Under Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers, the Supreme Court normally hears cases en banc, meaning with all seven justices. However, Malloy doesn’t have to necessarily have a replacement named before Norcott leaves the bench. Rogers can pull in retired justices and lower court judges to sit with the court on individual cases.
Any pick Malloy makes will have to be confirmed by the legislature.
At the state’s largest affinity bar organization, the George W. Crawford Black Bar Association, leaders said they anticipate that Malloy will consider diversity of experience, as well as ethnic and cultural background. But ethnicity isn’t everything, they said.
“We anticipate that Governor Malloy will nominate an individual who not only has a deep understanding of the law, but one who has also shown commitment to equal access and fair play in our legal system,” said Genea O. Bell, an employment lawyer with Jackson Lewis and president of the Crawford bar. “It is our hope that the next justice will bring to the court a diversity of philosophy and perspective that reflects the growing racial and cultural diversity of Connecticut’s population and legal community.”
She declined to speculate on who a good replacement for Norcott might be. “There are many members of the bar who exemplify those qualities,” she said.
Edward C. Lee, who is president of the Connecticut Asian Pacific Bar Association, said the appointment of an Asian Pacific-American person to the Supreme Court would help the state’s justice system better reflect the state’s population. There are currently five APA judges on the Superior Court, but none in the appellate division, he said.
“The APA community have an estimated population of 157,000 in Connecticut and are the fastest growing minority population in the state,” Lee said. “The APA community is too significant to be ignored, and it would be a boost to the Malloy administration if an APA is appointed as a Supreme Court justice.”