Connecticut’s Andrew McDonald is poised to become the first-ever openly gay chief state Supreme Court justice in the United States, and some legal observers believe the Democrat will move the court further to the left.
Just as the rest of the country is seeing legal questions and social issues, such as immigration, move to the forefront, Connecticut’s courts have generally moved to the left on such matters. Among McDonald’s most notable votes was joining the majority in a 4-3 ruling in 2015 finding Connecticut’s death penalty unconstitutional.
“He is known as a progressive justice on social and legal issues,” Quinnipiac University Law School professor John Thomas said of McDonald, “This is an interesting moment in Connecticut’s social and legal history. I think having the first openly gay chief justice ever in the country is very meaningful at a time when we see a pushback on the federal level of LGBTQ rights in the country. This is a sign of social progress and an embrace of equality.”
McDonald, who has served as associate justice for five years, is expected to be easily approved by the 45 members of the joint judiciary committees. McDonald, 51, was nominated by Gov. Dannel Malloy to replace Chase Rogers, who steps down Feb. 5.
McDonald, who worked for then-Stamford Mayor Malloy as director of legal affairs and corporation counsel from 1999 to 2002, is one of several justices known for peppering attorneys with constant questions during oral arguments.
“He will know the briefs and know the appendix and he is going to recognize the weakness of your case,” said former University of Connecticut Law School classmate Karen Dowd, a partner with Horton, Dowd, Bartschi & Levesque in Hartford. “He wants you to answer the tough questions.”
Dowd said McDonald was ambitious in law school, making it no surprise he’s poised to become the chief jurist.
“He was ambitious and serious and focused in law school,” Dowd said of McDonald, who was also the managing editor of the Connecticut Journal of International Law. “He was in the smart group in college, while I was in the group having fun while at law school.”
Jamie Sullivan, who was one year behind McDonald at law school, said McDonald had a calling for public service.
“He was a leader in his class and a bright and compassionate individual with a deep understanding of multiple areas of law,” said Sullivan, a partner with Howard Kohn Sprague & FitzGerald. “His calling for public service dates back to his work as corporation counsel for Stamford and the fact that he will be chief justice is a realization of that search for public service.”
Democrat William Tong, co-chairman of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, said he expects a 45-0 vote confirming McDonald. McDonald’s hearing should begin in late February. Tong expects he will be confirmed in March.
“He is extraordinarily well-qualified based on his depth and breath of experience,” Tong said. “Justice McDonald has had almost every job you can have at the state and local level from corporation counsel to senate chair of the Judiciary Committee in the state Legislature to general counsel to the governor to justice of the Supreme Court.”
Tong added: “He has a reach in terms of knowledge and experience that very few lawyers ever achieve.”
McDonald, who also practiced law in Connecticut for nearly three decades, most as a litigation partner with Pullman & Comley, declined to comment for this report.