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Sununu once again nominating MacDonald to NH Supreme Court

January 6, 2021 GMT

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — 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 Aug. 23, 2019. He would take over leadership from Senior Associate Justice Gary Hicks.

“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.

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“From suing polluters to leading the fight against Massachusetts’ unconstitutional taxation of our citizens in the United States Supreme Court, Gordon has never been afraid to take the action that he believes is right, even when that course may not be the easiest.”

In July 2019, the then-Democratic-led council voted 3-2 along party lines against MacDonald. Following the November election, the council now has four Republicans and one Democrat.

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 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, 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.