Sununu renominates MacDonald for NH Supreme Court

  • Gordon MacDonald speaks during a public hearing in the executive council chambers, Tuesday, March 28, 2017, at the New Hampshire Statehouse in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola) Elise Amendola

  • New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon MacDonald in West Lebanon, N.H., on Feb. 13, 2018. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Geoff Hansen

The Associated Press
Published: 1/6/2021 4:26:25 PM
Modified: 1/6/2021 11:04:57 PM

CONCORD — Gov. Chris Sununu is once again nominating Attorney General Gordon MacDonald as chief justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court, this time under a GOP-led Executive Council that would have to approve his confirmation.

The Republican governor said he plans to nominate MacDonald on Thursday, during the council’s first meeting of the year, not long after they are sworn in.

If confirmed, MacDonald would succeed Chief Justice Bob Lynn, who retired in August 2019. He would take over leadership from Senior Associate Justice Gary Hicks.

MacDonald is a 1979 Hanover High School graduate and Dartmouth College alumnus.

“Gordon has served this state with distinction as Attorney General for the last four years, and I am honored to nominate him to lead our state’s highest court,” Sununu said in a statement Wednesday.

“I am grateful to Governor Sununu for the confidence he has placed in me and for the prospective opportunity to serve the people of New Hampshire in this extraordinarily important role,” MacDonald said in the same news release from Sununu’s office.

In July 2019, the then-Democratic-led Executive Council voted, 3-2, along party lines against MacDonald. Following the November election, the council now has four Republicans and one Democrat. Then-Executive Councilor Mike Cryans, a Hanover Democrat, who voted against MacDonald, was defeated in November by Republican Joe Kenney, a MacDonald supporter from Wakefield.

While MacDonald had broad support from the legal community — including from Lynn and his two predecessors — critics raised questions about his lack of experience as a judge and his past involvement in conservative Republican politics.

At his public hearing, MacDonald insisted he would uphold the law impartially and protect the independence of the judiciary, but then-Councilor Andru Volinsky, a Democrat, said that wasn’t enough. He said he wanted MacDonald to distance himself from the “shockingly extreme views” of politicians he had supported.

Former Councilor Deb Pignatelli, also a Democrat, accused Sununu of trying to stack the court with conservative justices at a time when the court likely will be ruling on important issues, such as voting and reproductive rights, gun safety, and education funding.

Expressing his disappointment, Sununu said the council, the five-member group that approves state contracts and nominations to courts and agencies, had thrown a long tradition of nonpartisan judicial selection “right out the window.”

Sununu did not make further nominations. If confirmed, MacDonald would be the third Sununu appointee to the high court without experience as a judge, and the first in at least a century to become chief justice without prior time on the bench.

The Valley News contributed to this report.

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