Partisanship and Homophobia Derail Confirmation of the First Openly Gay Man to Serve as a State Supreme Court Chief Justice
Associate Justice Andrew McDonald should have just made U.S. history as the first openly gay male chief justice to serve on a state supreme court. Instead, his nomination — which has been backed by newspaper editorials, law deans across Connecticut, and the state bar association — was blocked by a vote because of a toxic mix of partisan maneuvering and anti-LGBT bigotry.
In an unprecedented vote, the Republican members of the Connecticut Senate voted as a block of 18 to end the appointment of Justice McDonald to serve as Chief Justice of the state’s highest court.
Most Senate Republicans continue to protest that their opposition to Justice McDonald had absolutely “nothing to do with him being gay.” And while anti-LGBT bigotry isn’t the whole story, bias and homophobia are inextricably bound up in this vote.
There is no question that Justice McDonald is uniquely qualified for this position, having served in all three branches of government. Before his five-year tenure on the Connecticut Supreme Court, McDonald was a state Senator and chair of the judiciary committee for eight years, and continued his public service as legal counsel to the Governor.
Yet despite his unquestionable qualifications, from the beginning, Justice McDonald’s confirmation process was treated differently. During his hearing, the Republican members of the Judiciary Committee subjected McDonald to an unprecedented 13 hours of questioning, while the average hearing for a judicial nominee lasts just over a single hour. Justice McDonald was grilled about his friendship with Governor Dan Malloy, including at least one question that inquired about the Governor’s role as the officiant of McDonald’s wedding to his husband.
It is impossible to overlook the fact that many of the Senators who opposed Justice McDonald’s nomination are also consistently against extending basic equality to LGBT people. Connecticut Senator John Kissel defended his “no” vote on the floor by saying that he didn’t take issue with “the way McDonald runs his personal life.” In 2011, it was Senator Kissel led an effort to write transphobic stigma into a state non-discrimination bill.
This is a sad story for the LGBT history books and the justice system. The integrity of the judiciary requires a judicial bench that truly reflects the rich diversity of the communities they serve. When more openly LGBT judges serve on the bench, particularly at the highest levels, it improves public confidence in the fairness of the system.
But more important that the historical and institutional implications, the injury inflicted by this vote will be felt directly by the LGBT community. Despite recent progress LGBT people employment discrimination, unequal parenting laws and uneven legal barriers to accessing health care. With the rights of LGBT people and their families routinely being decided by state courts, it is critical that cases are decided by judges who apply the law without bias. Unfortunately, LGBT individuals can face implicit and explicit discrimination from judges. Openly LGBT judges can help to educate their peers and bring a unique perspectives and experiences to the process of applying the law. LGBT judges also serve as role models to our youth, who often struggle to see themselves reflected back in their government.
Today, Connecticut Republicans took stood in the way of judicial independence, fair courts and progress towards LGBT equality. We may reflect on this vote with sadness and anger today, but we will move forward with determination and resilience.