Sandra Slack Glover
State Supreme Court nominee Sandra Slack Glover during a hearing of the Judiciary Committee Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Recent actions of the U.S. Supreme Court loomed large over a Monday confirmation hearing of Sandra Slack Glover, an attorney nominated by Gov. Ned Lamont to serve as a justice on Connecticut’s Supreme Court. 

Glover, a long time federal prosecutor and current chief of the Appellate Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut, stands to replace former Justice Maria Araújo Kahn, who resigned earlier this year after being confirmed to serve as a judge in a federal appeals court. 

During a Monday hearing of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, lawmakers sought to gain an understanding of Glover’s personality and legal philosophies. 

Their efforts were more pronounced based on a lack of prior decisions to review — Glover has not previously served as judge — and her signing of a 2017 letter endorsing a judicial nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, who has since become a U.S. Supreme Court justice and voted last year with the court’s conservative majority to overturn national protections for abortion rights. 

Glover made reference to the letter in her opening remarks, saying she supported a woman’s right to choose “full stop” and believed, as an attorney, that the ruling overturning Roe v. Wade was “egregiously” wrong. Under questioning from lawmakers, she said she would not sign the same letter today. 

“I’m not going to demonize her [Barrett], but when I look at that letter now, I can’t stand by — I’m no longer comfortable with some of those statements,” she said. 

Barrett and Glover both served as clerks to U.S. Supreme Court justices during the October 1998 term. Glover and every other surviving member of that year’s class of clerks signed the letter praising Barrett as “eminently qualified” to serve as an appeals court judge.

Glover told the Judiciary Committee that her outlook had changed since 2017, when she signed the letter. She said she traveled to Washington D.C. that year to participate in a Women’s March the day after former President Donald Trump was inaugurated.

“I was scared but also believed, clearly naively at this point, I thought there were guardrails and I thought they would hold,” Glover said. “I thought lower court judges were constrained. I thought the Supreme Court was constrained. I was wrong. And looking back and knowing what I now know, I shouldn’t have signed it.”

Throughout her hearing, Glover demonstrated a belief in ongoing constraints on the judiciary. At various points in the proceedings, she attempted to refrain from providing personal opinions on questions ranging from affirmative action, hiring quotas, and whether the balance of criminal justice policies had swung too far in favor of defendants.

Judiciary Committee
Members of the Judiciary Committee during a May 15, 2023 hearing Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

To the frustration of some legislators, who were unable to refer to prior decisions by Glover, she sometimes told lawmakers that those decisions were better left to them. 

“Those policy calls are for you all to make and the role of the judiciary is to apply those statutes as written,” she said. 

Rep. Patricia Dillon, D-New Haven, said it was important for legislators to get a better idea of Glover’s leanings given that Supreme Court actions had “tainted” matters.

“I don’t know you at all,” Dillon said. “You’re a black box to me… I have a notion of what you may face if your nomination is successful but we really don’t know.”

“It may well be that the Connecticut Supreme Court, for us and our little world here, could be the firewall on climate, could be the firewall on race, and we’ll get to that, on education, which is in our constitution,” Dillon said. “So it much, much matters that we know who you are.”

It was a bipartisan sentiment.

“We’re put in this position in that I can’t review any decision that you’ve ever written because you haven’t,” Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, said. “So I’ve got to try and look at what you’ve done.”

Rep. Melissa Osborne, D-Simsbury, made several attempts to urge Glover to weigh in on whether affirmative action was constitutional and whether Glover believed it was a good idea. Glover answered generally that public institutions should reflect the diversity of their communities and that decision-making bodies functioned better with a wide set of viewpoints.

“How do you get there? I think that’s a ‘devil’s in the details’ question and a policy question I would leave to you,” Glover said. She said courts were constrained by both state law and prior legal cases. “I’m not going to fight your suggestions that there is room for policymaking, I just see it as very constrained.”

Osborne pushed back, saying that courts were responsible for broad policies like the Commerce Clause and the right to privacy. She said that many U.S. Supreme Court justices had deferred to a reliance on precedence in response to policy questions. 

“There is a laundry list, practically, of current U.S. Supreme Court justices: [Neil] Gorsuch, [Brett] Kavanaugh, [Samuel] Alito,” she paused, “Barrett. They’ve all answered that they would follow the rule of law and would follow precedent. I guess I’m looking for some greater comfort… because we now know that not every justice on the Supreme Court, who’s sitting today, has told other inquisitors, I guess, the truth when they’ve asked that question.”

Osborne questioned whether Glover’s deference to precedent extended to ruling that themselves did not respect precedent. She pointed to Dobbs v. Jackson, the ruling which eliminated a right to abortion. Glover said the decision reinforced the importance of state courts. 

“I feel like we’re in something of a singular historic moment. I really do. I found Dobbs to be a gut punch as a lawyer and a woman,” Glover said. 

“I don’t get to change what they say the U.S. Constitution means but what it has done for me is it has emphasized the significance and importance of state courts that can come to their own conclusions about what state constitutions mean,” she said. 

Asked about the nomination on Monday, the governor reiterated his support for Glover and brushed off the letter on Barrett as “something out of context.” 

“Look, Sandy, aka Justice Glover, is going to be a great Supreme Court justice,” Lamont said.

“I think she’s been very clear. She reflects Connecticut values and reproductive choice because that’s the law of the land here in Connecticut.”