CONCORD, N.H. – Attorney General Gordon MacDonald is the state’s new Chief Justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court.
On a 4-1 vote along partisan lines, MacDonald was confirmed with the lone Democrat, Cinde Warmington of Concord, casting the dissenting vote.
Nineteen months ago, Gov. Chris Sununu appointed MacDonald to fill the vacancy left when Chief Justice Robert Lynn retired. The nomination failed on a 3-2 vote with Democrats opposing him saying he lacked judicial experience and concerns about his past conservative leanings on issues of reproductive rights.
Sununu kept the seat vacant since then hoping to get a new Republican majority on the Executive Council, which happened in November when he was re-elected.
On Thursday, the Executive Council held a public hearing on MacDonald’s nomination which lasted for seven and a half hours. Warmington called the vote one of the most important responsibilities of the council.
She said she wanted to ensure a well-qualified person got the job. Warmington said after hearing testimony and having her own questions answered she was left with “serious questions” about MacDonald’s ability to be impartial on issues of reproductive and voting rights “at a time when they are being threatened.”
Warmington also said he had no judicial experience to base her decisions on. Instead, she had to rely on his decisions as attorney general which included his willingness to divert public taxpayer funds to private schools. She said she believes he is incapable of meeting his obligation of putting aside his personal beliefs.
“To be clear this is not a political statement,” Warmington stressed, and while she respects him and his legal scholarship she did not feel he was qualified.
Executive Councilor for District 1 Joseph D. Kenney, a Republican who supported the nomination, gave an overview of the hearing held Thursday on the MacDonald nomination. It included support and opposition and testimony that ranged from constitutional issues, reproductive rights, and victims’ rights.
Kenney said New Hampshire proved itself well by the process.
Executive Councilor David Wheeler of District 5, a Republican, said in his 32 years in and out of the State House, “I have not seen an attorney general work any harder than Gordon MacDonald.
“He has never lied to me. That is a big deal to me,” Wheeler said. “That is what I would want to see in a Supreme Court Chief Justice. He has his head clearly wrapped around the Second Amendment.”
Wheeler said it was noteworthy that MacDonald worked on the fight with Massachusetts over-taxation of state residents, worked on robocalls and oversight of St. Paul’s School in Concord.
Republican Executive Councilor Ted Gatsas of Manchester, who voted for MacDonald on the first round 18 months ago said MacDonald is a “man of his word.”
He said he was impressed by testimony from the hearing.
Janet Stevens, a new councilor from Rye in District 3, a Republican, spoke remotely from her home. She said the state has an issue with a backlog in the courts. Stevens said she believed that, “Gordon will do an exemplary job.”
After the vote, Sununu released a statement: “Attorney General Gordon MacDonald is one of the most highly qualified individuals ever to serve as Chief Justice and will lead New Hampshire’s highest court with distinction,” Sununu said. “I would like to thank Councilors Wheeler, Kenney, Gatsas, and Stevens for carefully considering Gordon’s outstanding qualifications.”
MacDonald has been Attorney General since April of 2017. In that role, he managed a team of over 140 employees, including more than 60 attorneys.
He helped establish the department’s first-ever Civil Rights Unit, and spearheaded an effort to create the position of Solicitor General.
Before 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. A graduate of Dartmouth College and Cornell Law School, he earned recognition as one of the state’s top attorneys for commercial and health care litigation by Chambers USA and Benchmark Litigation and successfully handled a number of high-profile cases in both state and federal court.
Also at the council meeting over the phone, Sununu swore in a new legislator Anne Copp of Derry, a Republican.
Also at the meeting, the council accepted four resignations including from Circuit Court Justices Edwin Kelly of Concord and Lucinda Sadler of Bow. Both are reaching retirement age.