After Gov. Chris Sununu (R-NH) nominated his handpicked state attorney general to be chief justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court, the state’s five-member Executive Council this week rejected the nomination. Furious, Sununu responded that he will retaliate by no longer making appointments.
Sununu nominated Attorney General Gordon MacDonald (R) last month to replace Chief Justice Robert Lynn, who is set to step down in August as he reaches the state’s mandatory retirement age of 70. MacDonald was appointed by Sununu in 2017 to be attorney general after a long career as a lawyer and chief of staff to former U.S. Sen. Gordon Humphrey (R).
Advocates for gender equality have raised significant concerns about MacDonald’s record working for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester on anti-abortion legislation and his partisan background. Others have noted that he has no experience as a judge. Because of these and other concerns, the elected body that votes on state judicial confirmations — the New Hampshire Executive Council — voted to reject the nomination 3-2, on a party-line vote.
One Democratic member of the council explained that MacDonald’s “aggressively partisan views continued through at least the 2016 Republican Convention.” When he had asked MacDonald “if he had ever voiced more moderate positions,” the nominee had not been able to do so.
Another Democratic member said that with the state court likely to examine questions of voting rights, reproductive choice, and gun restrictions in the near future, ideological balance and gender diversity were needed on the state’s only appellate court.
But rather than picking a less-partisan, consensus nominee to fill the slot, Sununu on Wednesday pulled the nomination of a candidate for an associate justice seat on the court and blasted the Executive Council for throwing the state’s tradition “right out the window.”
“That’s what I’m taking home from this more than anything, that we have changed the paradigm, that we have changed our system going forward and politics is clearly, in the words of our own councilors, going to be a litmus test,” Sununu complained. “I personally think that that political extremism is a breach of the public trust.”
After decrying MacDonald’s opponents for “Washington, D.C., theatrics,” Sununu announced that he would simply refrain from making future nominations until the Executive Council gives him his way.
“[I]t is clear we need to take a pause on the judicial nominating process,” he said in a statement, “and not move forward with any nominees until I have confidence there’s appropriate perspective from the council on their responsibilities to the process and to the state.”