CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — This time facing a more friendly audience, New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon MacDonald on Thursday again made the case for why he should be the next chief justice of the state Supreme Court.
Republican Gov. Chris Sununu nominated MacDonald to the position for a second time last month, nearly a year and a half after the state council that approves agency heads and judicial nominations rejected him. At that time, Democrats held a 3-2 majority, but since the November election, Republicans hold four of the seats.
If confirmed, MacDonald would be the first chief justice in at least a century to achieve that position without having ever served as a judge, though numerous associate justices were appointed to the high court directly from careers as attorneys. At a public hearing Thursday, he said his experience, knowledge and skills have prepared him for the key duties of the job: serving as an appellate judge, acting as administrator of the entire court system and being a leader in the legal profession.
He emphasized his role in overseeing more than 100 Department of Justice employees and working with other state agencies and the Legislature, and promised he would leave his personal views at the door, scrupulously follow the law and deliver fair, impartial decisions in a timely manner.
“Serving the law and the people of this state is an awesome responsibility. I’ve certainly felt that every day for the last four years. I believe this service should be approached with the utmost humility,” he said. “In making that statement and seeking this position, I certainly do not claim perfection, far from it. None of us have all the answers. All of us make mistakes, I certainly have. However, in the quest to follow the law, I will always be open to persuasion and reason, work as hard as I can to get it right.”
While MacDonald had broad support from the legal community, opponents criticize his lack of experience as a judge and his involvement in conservative Republican politics, including working for Republican U.S. Sen. Gordon Humphrey in the 1980s.
“What if any assurance can you give the women of New Hampshire that they will continue to have the right to make their own reproductive health care decisions and have access to safe and legal abortion services?” asked Councilor Cinde Warmington, the council’s lone Democrat.
“It’s a question that would not be appropriate for me to answer,” said MacDonald, who repeatedly noted that legal codes of conduct prohibit him from taking public positions on issues that may come before the court. He also repeated that he would follow precedent regardless of whether he felt a case was decided correctly, and again declined to answer when Warmington asked about a case in which, as attorney general, he asked judges to overturn a precedent.
“I think what you do as attorney general matters to the people of New Hampshire,” said Warmington, who also accused MacDonald of putting his own ambitions above the “integrity of the court” by not removing himself from consideration and letting the seat remain vacant for so long.
Three hours into the hearing, only two of the five councilors had asked questions, and the only member of the public who spoke was former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a Republican who previously served as attorney general. The hearing was expected to continue well into the afternoon.
“Gordon is someone who is hard working, he is diligent, he listens to people, he takes people’s views in mind, he’s not just confined to his own viewpoint. I have no doubt political considerations will never come into play when he rules on cases,” Ayotte said. “He will respect every person who comes before the court and will have empathy for those who come before the court.”