By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
LITTLETON – The nomination of Gordon J. MacDonald to chief justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court was rejected by the Executive Council on what the governor called a “partisan” vote of 3-2 on Wednesday.
Voting against the 58-year-old who has served as the state’s attorney general since 2017, were Executive Councilors Debora Pignatelli of Nashua, Andru Volinski of Concord and Mike Cryans of Hanover, all Democrats.
Voting to support Gov. Chris Sununu’s nominee were Republicans Ted Gatsas of Manchester and Russell Prescott of Kingston.
Sununu called the vote the end to bipartisan politics in New Hampshire and the way New Hampshire has done things in the past adding it was time for a break from nominations and confirmations for judicial posts.
“This body has a tradition going back literally hundreds of years working in a non-partisan manner and today the Executive Council has thrown that right out the window,” Sununu said.
Pignatelli said everyone wants a highly qualified person with unquestioned ethics. “That is the bare minimum, but I am seeking more,” Pignatelli said, “a court balanced on the political-philosophical spectrum from liberal to conservative. And wouldn’t it be nice to have gender balance as well.”
Martin P. Honigberg of Concord was also up for confirmation as an associate justice of the New Hampshire Superior Court at the meeting.
But Sununu pulled his nomination off the table after the vote on MacDonald, which Pignatelli called “childish.”
The meeting was held at the Littleton Opera House in Littleton where MacDonald sat in the audience and heard the concerns raised by Democrats.
MacDonald said after the hearing that he was honored by the support he received adding he was honored as well to work as attorney general. “I’m going back to Concord to do that work,” MacDonald said.
MacDonald would have succeeded Chief Justice Robert Lynn, who is retiring, having reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 this year.
A public hearing on MacDonald’s nomination was held June 26 where he and supporters made their case that MacDonald should be confirmed with supporters outnumbering opponents.
MacDonald told the council at the public hearing he would “faithfully uphold and apply the law and will perform all of my duties fairly and impartially.”
But opponents claim his conservative Republican politics and his lack of judicial experience should preclude him from the job. After leaving politics, he worked as a lawyer in Manchester and represented Purdue Pharma, which manufactures the painkiller OxyContin.
Questions were raised about protecting women’s reproductive freedom at the public hearing.
MacDonald assured members of the Executive Council at the June 26 hearing he believes Roe versus Wade, which legalized abortion, is settled law, as are court precedents, that he has the discipline to put aside his personal views to judge cases on the evidence and the law, and he possesses the skills to lead the court system although he has no judicial experience.
Prior to serving as attorney general, MacDonald was a partner at Nixon Peabody LLP in Manchester, where he was a member of the Commercial Litigation Practice Group. He is a graduate of Dartmouth College and Cornell Law School.
The council also voted against holding a pardon hearing for Susan McLaughlin Cook. Cook, 67, is serving life in prison with no chance for parole in connection with the murder of Robert Cushing, 63, of Hampton, a prominent real estate broker, former teacher, World War II Marine Corps veteran and outspoken community advocate.
He was killed on June 1, 1988.