The state Senate could vote as early as next week on Family Court Judge Sabrina McKenna’s appointment to the Hawaii Supreme Court following the unanimous approval of her nomination yesterday by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"Her qualifications are at such a high level it would be very difficult to imagine anyone voting against her," Senate Judiciary Chairman Clayton Hee said after the 5-0 vote.
McKenna, 53, senior Family Court judge at the Kapolei courthouse complex and Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s first judicial nomination, has served 17 years as a district, circuit and family court judge.
Her appointment to a 10-year term breezed through the committee hearing with strong support from the legal community, including Avi Soifer, dean of the University of Hawaii law school.
McKenna would be the first graduate of UH’s William S. Richardson School of Law to sit on the five-member high court.
President Louise Ing of the Hawaii State Bar Association said its board voted McKenna qualified for the position. McKenna’s nomination also drew support from state Public Defender Jack Tonaki, Hawaii Women Lawyers and former jurists, including Steven Levinson, a retired associate justice.
McKenna became emotional as the vote was finalized and she received a round of applause from the packed committee hearing room.
"I will do my very best to fulfill the trust and confidence you have placed in me," McKenna said in thanking the committee members.
Hee opened the hearing noting that McKenna’s nomination had received 101 pieces of testimony, with only five in opposition. Four of those were opposed to McKenna because she is openly gay, while the fifth was opposed because he had lost a case tried before her, Hee said.
Hee said the panel was interested in views on McKenna’s qualifications and suggested focusing on her sexual orientation would not be appropriate.
During the debate before the Senate approved the civil-unions bill last week, Hee cited McKenna as an example of how the senators had a chance to strike a blow for equality.
Sen. Sam Slom, the sole Republican senator, then said Hee’s remarks were "outrageous and inappropriate" for bringing McKenna’s sexual orientation into the discussion.
McKenna told the committee yesterday Hee only asked her whether he could use her name, but when she saw the news reports about Hee’s remarks, she checked with the Judicial Conduct Commission to see whether she violated the ethics code for allowing her name to be invoked in the legislative discussion of civil unions.
The commission told her she did not violate the code, she said.
Slom, who expressed support for McKenna’s appointment earlier, voted along with the other committee members to approve her nomination.
Star-Advertiser reporter B.J. Reyes contributed to this report.