Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who took office two years ago pledging to make the courts as diverse as Connecticut’s society, today nominated Andrew J. McDonald as the first openly gay justice of the state Supreme Court.
McDonald, 46, was an influential legal voice as co-chairman of the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee before he left the legislature two years ago to become Malloy’s top legal adviser as general counsel. He is a longtime confidant of Malloy. Before becoming a legislator, he served as city attorney in Stamford when Malloy was mayor.
Malloy said he selected McDonald to work for him both times for a simple reason.
“In my estimation, Andrew possesses an exceptional ability to understand and analyze, research and evaluate legal issues,” he said. Malloy said those skills will make McDonald a “great jurist.”
An emotional McDonald said he was humbled the first time he argued before the Connecticut Supreme Court. “The notion that one day I might sit as a member of that court is something I couldn’t have imagined,” he said.
If confirmed by the legislature, McDonald would succeed Lubbie J. Harper Jr., who was Malloy’s first appointment to the court. Harper reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 in November. Malloy has a second vacancy to fill: Justice Ian McLachlan also is 70. The governor said he would announce McLachlan’s appointment in the coming days.
As a justice, McDonald would bring to the state’s highest court the perspective of a politician who struggled to draft and pass legislation on the death penalty, gay marriage, transgender rights, gun control and drug penalties.
“The Judiciary Committee is the legislative cauldron for all of that,” McDonald said in 2009, when the panel drew the ire of Catholic clergy by considering a bill that could have forcibly reorganized the finances of Catholic parishes.
McDonald, who first ran for the state Senate in 2002 as an openly gay politician, was co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee in 2005, when the legislature passed a civil unions law that gave many of the same rights as marriage to same-sex couples.
The law was seen as a stepping stone to marriage, a right the state Supreme Court gave gay couples in 2008.
Like the governor, McDonald was a supporter in the legislature of gay marriage, transgender rights and the abolition of the death penalty.
In announcing McDonald’s nomination Thursday, Malloy spoke of the Supreme Court’s “heroic” decision in 2008 that legalized same-sex marriage, and noted that he performed McDonald’s wedding the following year to Charles Gray.
McDonald praised the governor as “one of the finest leaders and one of the finest human beings I have ever met.” And he thanked Malloy, his friends, colleagues and former law partners who attended the announcement, and Gray.
“For 15 years he was my ‘friend,’ my partner and my companion,” McDonald said, making quotation marks with his fingers. “Some three years ago I was so honored, governor, that you helped settle the name game by performing our wedding and allowing me to finally and officially call Charles my husband.”
McDonald also spoke of his late parents and the values they taught him. His mother, Anne, represented Stamford in the general assembly from 1991 to 2003. His father, Alex, died earlier this year.
“I would give anything for them to experience this,” he said.
The choice of McDonald, a Democrat, drew praise from top Republican senators Thursday.
“While Andrew and I have had considerable political differences over the years, I have always respected his commitment to public service and the law,” Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said in a statement. “He is qualified and I am confident he will uphold the state constitution and carry out his responsibilities as a Supreme Court Justice with the highest degree of impartiality and integrity.”
McKinney noted that McDonald has never served as a judge but said that did not concern him.
Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, called McDonald “a good choice.” “He is thorough, honest, and has a tremendous respect for the law and for the State of Connecticut,” Fasano said in a statement.
McDonald is a graduate of Cornell University and the University of Connecticut School of Law.
His departure from the administration comes as Malloy approaches the mid-point in his first term, a time when the governor is seeking another two-year commitment from senior aides who remain in their posts.
Roy Occhiogrosso, the governor’s senior adviser, also recently resigned. Malloy’s first chief of staff, Timothy Bannon, and first communication director, Colleen Flanagan, previously left the administration.
Follow Mark Pazniokas on Twitter @CTMirrorPaz