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Executive Councilor from Hanover to vote against N.H. Supreme Court nominee

  • Mike Cryans (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon MacDonald listens to Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky during MacDonald's public hearing on Wednesday, June 26, 2019 at the State House. (Concord Monitor - Geoff Forester)



Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, June 28, 2019

HANOVER — Executive Councilor Mike Cryans said Friday he will vote against the nomination of Attorney General Gordon MacDonald as chief justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

The development calls into question whether the Republican nominee, who has broad support in the legal community but no experience as a judge, will be confirmed.

Democrats hold a 3-2 majority on the Executive Council, so MacDonald needs at least one Democratic vote, assuming the two Republican councilors back his nomination.

Cryans, D-Hanover, told the Valley News on Friday he didn’t think MacDonald’s answers on abortion rights and voting rights for college students in New Hampshire during a confirmation hearing on Wednesday were “strong enough.” Cryans also said he is concerned that MacDonald has never been a judge.

MacDonald, who graduated in 1979 from Hanover High School, said at the hearing on Wednesday that the Roe v. Wade decision was “settled law” and that it would be “my duty to uphold it.”

But Republican attempts nationally to chip away at abortion rights and an increasingly conservative U.S. Supreme Court have Cryans concerned.

“I didn’t have a comfort level if there was a swing at the national level to overturn Roe v. Wade that it wouldn’t be attempted at the state level,” Cryans said.

Cryans also noted that none of the three nominees to the high court from two-term Republican Gov. Chris Sununu have had judicial experience, and that troubles him.

“In fairness to Gordon, he’s a hard-working attorney general. He’s bright, but on the issues, we just have a disagreement,” Cryans said. “And … I’d like to have the governor, if this one doesn’t succeed, look at people with trial judge experience.”

The Executive Council could vote on the nomination at its next meeting on July 10 in Littleton, N.H.

In an emailed statement through his spokesman, Sununu blasted Cryans, the first Democrat to hold the 1st District Executive Council seat in 54 years, for his decision.

“Washington-style politics have entered New Hampshire in the worst way possible,” Sununu said. “Councilor Cryans owes an apology to every single one of his North Country constituents for this shameful and blatantly partisan vote. Rarely has New Hampshire seen a nominee so well regarded — with unprecedented and unanimous bipartisan support from lawyers, justices, and legal assistance and victims’ rights advocates — fall victim to pure partisan politics.”

Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky, D-Concord, also has said he has questions about MacDonald’s stance on issues ranging from voting rights to abortion. The abortion rights question has been pressed by Democratic activists and Planned Parenthood supporters, and Volinsky is a likely Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 2020.

Volinsky on Friday said he was “still weighing a number of things” on the nomination but also signaled that he continues to have reservations about MacDonald’s nomination.

“I think the approach taken by the nominee, who I know and like, and the people who organized his campaign for this office, was a matter of ‘trust me,’ and in performing my constitutional duties, I have difficulty with that approach,” Volinsky said.

Executive Councilor Debora Pignatelli, D-Nashua, said Friday that she is still making up her mind on the nomination.

“I’m weighing everything that I heard during the hearing and processing everything, and I will do the best I can to make the best decision I can,” she said.

Asked about abortion rights, Pignatelli, a fifth-term councilor who also served for 15 years in the New Hampshire House and Senate, said, “I think it’s very important to me as the issue devolves down to the local level. Our Supreme Court will be very important.”

Staff writer John P. Gregg can be reached at jgregg@vnews.com.