Filibuster delays vote on judges

The legislature’s Judiciary Committee today postponed a confirmation vote on an all-white class of nine judicial nominees after an ad hoc filibuster by black and Puerto Rican legislators.

Members of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus are pressuring Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s administration to add a minority lawyer to what may be her last group of nominees to the Superior Court.

Caucus members on the Judiciary Committee said they had no formal plan to filibuster, but one developed as they raised questions and objections about the first nominee on the agenda, Laura Flynn Baldini.

“It just mushroomed into it,” said Rep. Charles “Don” Clemons Jr., D-Bridgeport, the caucus chairman and a member of the committee.

The nine nominees – there were 10 in the group until one nominee withdrew a week ago for unrelated reasons – have been caught up in controversies over the budget and judicial disparity.

Rep. Michael P. Lawlor, D-East Haven, co-chairman of the committee, said he postponed a vote until Tuesday after it became clear that a debate on the nominees would stretch into the evening.

“It’s pretty clear that nothing is happening,” he said.

The House of Representatives was waiting to begin a session. Under legislative rules, no committee can meet while either chamber is in session.

House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, said the legislature has time to resolve the dispute over the nominees before its constitutional adjournment at midnight May 5.

House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, said Rell told him and Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney, R-Fairfield, that she is willing to promise naming one or more minority judges later this year. There are more than 20 judicial vacancies.

Rell previously has appointed 38 judges: 31 were white, 6 were black and one was Latino. If her 10 recent nominees are included, 85 percent of her nominees were white, the same percentage as the judicial appointments of her predecessor, Gov. John G. Rowland.

A majority of legislators vowed last week to block any confirmation until the administration resolved a fight over court funding with the judicial department.

The executive and judicial branches broke their budget deadlock on Thursday, but Senate President Pro Tempore Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, said Friday he would delay a final confirmation vote until the entire budget is resolved.

House Republicans, meanwhile, were threatening a filibuster in the House today in protest of Williams’ action.

Aside from the budget fight and broader concerns about diversity in the judiciary, the 39-year-old Baldini faced opposition today by several committee members, who found her inexperienced.