Separated At Birth:
S. Carolina & Connecticut
[Saturday’s] Courant has an important article about Judge John R. Downey, who has been nominated by Governor Rell to serve on the Connecticut Appellate Court. You may have read recently that Judge Downey, who awaits confirmation by the legislature, was criticized for having opened a session of his court with a “tribute” to the late Senator Strom Thurmond. Downey bragged about having known Thurmond while a law student in the 1970’s – a time before Thurmond’s attempt to rehabilitate his public image as an arch-racist and segregationist. Some members of the Judiciary Committee, which is charged with conducting a confirmaton hearing for Judge Downey on Tuesday, have criticized him for his praise of Thurmond.
Of course, the judge’s supporters have claimed that his opinion about whether Thurmond was a great man or a great bigot is not relevant to his nomination. Many people would disagree and question whether a judge who praised one of the icons of racist bigotry in the United States could possibly be expected to render justice for people of color in his court.
However, in the latest revelation about Judge Downey it is not merely his opinions that are at issue but whether those opinions interfere with his ability to apply established Connecticut law.
Lynne Tuohy’s article in the Courant describes how Judge Downey conducted himself in a workers compensation case that was before him. The case involved a claim by the estate of a man who had been killed in an employment-related accident.
It seems that upon hearing that the name of the deceased was Juan Rocado Brito, Judge Downey immediately asked the lawyer bringing the case whether or not Mr. Brito was “illegal.” When the lawyer responded by saying that it was not an issue in the case, Judge Downey is quoted as saying “Well, it might be an issue in Judge Downey’s courtroom . . . because I think citizens and people here validly have a right to use the court system and those who are here illegally do not.”