Gov. Dannel P. Malloy named Appellate Judge Lubbie Harper Jr. to the Connecticut Supreme Court on Wednesday, choosing a judge who was sitting temporarily on the high court when it legalized gay marriage in Connecticut, a ruling the governor praised.
He will succeed Joette Katz, who resigned to become the commissioner of children and families.
By naming Harper, Malloy will get the political benefit of naming only the third black justice in the court’s history, plus an opportunity to make yet another appointment when Harper reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70 in November 2012.
Harper, 68, of North Haven was nominated as a Superior Court judge by Gov. John G. Rowland in 1997. He was named an appellate judge by Gov. M. Jodi Rell in January 2005. His Supreme Court appointment must be approved by the legislature.
“As a young man growing up in New Haven I could not have dreamed of being in the postion I find myself today,” said Harper, who didn’t begin a career in law until relatively late, when he was in his 30s. He first was a social worker. “Governor, I hope there are young people who take hope from the appointment you have made today.”
Harper is Malloy’s first judicial appointment. The governor said he was not bothered by Harper’s inability to serve beyond the end of next year.
“I can honestly tell you that time was not a factor,” Malloy said. “Having served on the court for whatever time he could serve was important to me.”
Malloy said that Harper deserves to end his career on the highest court in recognition of his life and his career. Malloy noted that Harper, sitting by designation on Supreme Court, was part of the 4-3 majority that legalized same-sex marriage in 2008, which Malloy called “one of the most important cases to come before the Supreme Court in its history.”
“I think human rights are terribly, terribly important,” Malloy said.
Harper was first named to the Superior Court bench in 1997, when Rowland and the legislature were under fire for the lack of diversity in the courts, an issue that remains today.
Thomas D. Ritter, then the House speaker, sought Harper’s help to broaden the pool of judicial candidates, then eventually recomended him as a nominee. Ritter was in the audience today at the press conference announcing his appointment.
Harper’s nomination was applauded by legislators, including Sen. Eric Coleman, D-Hartford, whose committee will hold the judge’s confirmation hearing March 11.
“Judge Harper is an admirable selection on the part of Gov. Malloy, and I am sure he will do an outstanding job as our newest Supreme Court justice,” said Coleman, the co-chairman of the judiciary committee.
“He has a keen understanding of the human condition and a wisdom that will serve Connecticut well,” said Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven. “As a New Haven resident, I am also pleased that the governor has selected someone who has been a role model in New Haven since his days as a star athlete at Wilbur Cross high School.”
Connecticut’s highest court did not have a black justice until 1987, when Gov. William A. O’Neill named Robert D. Glass to the bench, 20 years after Lyndon Johnson appointed Thurgood Marshall to the U.S. Supreme Court. Glass retired in 1992.
Flemming L. Norcott Jr. was appointed the same year to the Supreme Court by Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. He will reached mandatory retirement age in 2013.
Harper is a graduate of the University of New Haven and the University of Connecticut School of Law. He also has a master’s degree in social work from UConn. He is now the chairman of the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Disparity in the Criminal Justice System.