The Hartford Courant is reporting that Thomas Meskill, Connecticut Governor from 1971 to 1975, and a judge on the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals from 1975 to 1993 (he took senior status after that date), passed away earlier today. 

Former Gov. and U.S. Rep. Thomas J. Meskill died early Monday in Florida, his wife said. He was 78. Meskill went to the Bethesda Memorial Hospital in Boynton Beach, Fla., to have blood drawn and died of a heart attack around 4 a.m., said his wife, Mary.

Thomas Meskill, a Republican, was governor from 1971 to 1975. …

In 1975, President Gerald Ford named him a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, and he served until 1993. During his last year on the bench, Meskill was chief judge.

The state library has a biography of him available here

Despite his other accomplishments, including establishing the Department of Environmental Protection, his impact on employment laws and civil rights legislation in the early 1970s, should not be minimized.

According to a summary of significant developments posted by the CHRO, Governor Meskill’s Executive Orders and involvement in other projects had a major role in shaping the state’s policies and laws on a variety of employment and civil rights issues.

  • In 1971, by Executive Order, Governor Meskill required state contractors and subcontractors to file compliance reports on their equal employment opportunity practices, prescribed by state law. He authorized the labor commissioner to administer and enforce these regulations, including the right to cancel violators’ contracts; ordered all state agencies to name their own compliance officers; and outlined procedures whereby other state agencies can recommend that CHRO bring appropriate enforcement proceedings in cases where substantial violation may exist. (Executive Order #3, June 16, 1971)
  • In 1973, an independent Permanent Commission on the Status of Women was established, to oversee women’s rights and needs, with discrimination complaints to be referred to CHRO. (Chapter 812)
  • Also in 1973, by Executive Order, Governor Meskill required the State Personnel Department to assume primary responsibility for assuring that equal employment opportunities exist within all state agencies and departments. The State Personnel Department was also ordered to develop and administer a statewide affirmative action plan. (Executive Order #18, May 8, 1973)
  • Also that year, the legislature approved of significant changes to the discrimination laws.  Physical disability added as a protected class. (P.A. 73-279, P.A. 74-57) Persons with a criminal record was added as a limited protected class. (P.A. 73-347)  Pregnancy leave benefits and job rights were specified under employment discrimination law. (P.A. 73-647)
  • The next year, the State Constitution’s Declaration of Rights was amended to prohibit the denial of equal protection of the law and segregation or discrimination in the exercise of civil or political rights because of sex. (Article I, Sec. 20)

To be sure, some will remember him as the Governor who failed to lead during a terrible ice storm of 1973 (an event that many in Connecticut will still remember — I can recall as a child the ice-covered trees bent outside the kitchen windows and our staying at home for several days until the ice cleared). 

And, obviously, a number of people far beyond Governor Meskill played a significant role in all of these changes noted above. But as his legacy is recounted in the upcoming days, Governor Meskill’s role in the middle of all of these changes, and his willingness to execute Executive Orders on issues he believed in, should not be overlooked.

 UPDATE 11:30 a.m.:  Judge Meskill’s work on the 2d circuit continued to the very end of his passing. The Second Circuit issued a decision today in which Meskill participated; the oral argument was held earlier this month.