Legislature confirms Harper for Supreme Court

Judge Lubbie Harper Jr. received legislative approval to join the state Supreme Court Wednesday. The House voted 124 to 16 and the Senate voted 24 to 7 to confirm Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s first nominee to the high court.

Lawmakers from both parties praised Harper before the votes. Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, and Sen. Eric D. Coleman, D-Bloomfield both spoke of looking up to Harper, a former Wilbur Cross High School basketball star, when they grew up in New Haven. Sen. John A. Kissel noted that New Haven high school students attended Harper’s confirmation hearing, showing his support in the community, and praised Harper’s discussion of racial and ethnic diversity and disparities in the justice system during the hearing.

Harper, 68, has served on the Appellate Court since 2005. He previously served as a Superior Court judge. He will become the third black justice to serve on the state Supreme Court.

While temporarily sitting on the Supreme Court, Harper was part of the 4-3 majority on the case that legalized same-sex marriage. Malloy noted the vote when he announced Harper’s nomination, calling the case “one of the most important cases to come before the Supreme Court in its history.”

The vote brought Harper criticism. The Family Institute of Connecticut, which opposes same-sex marriage, has called for his nomination to be rejected.

Sen. Kevin D. Witkos, R-Canton, said Harper had overstepped his role as part of the judicial branch.

“I can’t and I won’t support activist judges,” he said.

In supporting Harper, House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, and Rep. John W. Hetherington, R-New Canaan, spoke of the importance of judicial independence.

“There are many decisions Judge Harper has made over his long and distinguished career that I might not agree with,” Cafero said. “But what I did not disagree with is the fact that Judge Lubbie Harper stands for all the things that we hope for an independent judiciary: competence, compassion, justice, fairness and judicial demeanor that is second to none.”

Sen. Len Suzio, R-Meriden, questioned how Harper’s time on the court would affect its stability. Harper will reach the mandatory retirement age in November 2012.

“We don’t want to see the court become a revolving door,” Suzio said.

Four Democrats voted against Harper’s nomination: Sen. Joan V. Hartley, Rep. Steven Mikutel, Rep. Richard F. Roy, and Rep. Frank N. Nicastro, Sr.