Nora Dannehy
Nora Dannehy and Gov. Ned Lamont during a Sept. 1, 2023 press conference Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Gov. Ned Lamont nominated attorney Nora Dannehy to the state Supreme Court Friday. Dannehy, a well-known former federal prosecutor who previously served as Lamont’s general counsel, represents the governor’s second attempt this year to fill a vacancy on the high court. 

Lamont announced Dannehy’s nomination during a morning press conference in a state Capitol briefing room. He described her as a woman of integrity who has made a career of cracking down on public corruption. 

“Nora Dannehy is a person who knows what she knows, but you also know that she cares — she cares deeply about justice,” the governor said. “She’s going to be an extraordinary justice on the Supreme Court and we’re going to move this along in this special session coming up in just a few weeks.”

Dannehy has had a long legal career in both the public and private sector. She served as a federal prosecutor in the corruption case against former Gov. John G. Rowland and more recently she assisted Special Counsel John Durham’s investigation of the 2016 election, eventually resigning from the post in 2020.

Dannehy helped to steer the Lamont administration through some of the pandemic, serving as the governor’s general counsel from March 2021 through November 2022. Since then, she has been a partner at the Hartford firm Cowdery, Murphy, Dannehy and Healy. 

During brief remarks Friday, Dannehy said her time in private practice had afforded her the opportunity to work with outstanding people.

“But my heart is in public service,” she said. “If confirmed, it would be an honor to once again serve the people of Connecticut as an associate justice.” 

Dannehy did not take questions from reporters.

Both Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz and Attorney General William Tong praised Dannehy for her counsel during the COVID pandemic, when the governor’s emergency executive orders were lauded as prudent by much of the state’s residents and challenged in courts by others. 

“She was everybody’s lawyer in that moment,” Tong said, recalling March of 2021. “We were still in the throes of it, deep in the heart of the pandemic and there was a great deal of uncertainty. We weren’t sure what was going to happen next.” 

Dannehy’s appointment as general counsel brought relief to worried policymakers, Tong said. 

It will likely be her work as a prosecutor that informs much of the legislative debate over Dannehy’s Supreme Court nomination.

Through her work as a U.S. Attorney, Dannehy shares some professional experience with Sandra Slack Glover, Lamont’s first appointment to the state Supreme Court seat left vacant by former Justice Maria Araújo Kahn, who resigned earlier this year after being confirmed to serve as a judge in a federal appeals court. 

Glover, chief of the Appellate Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut, withdrew herself from consideration in May, after it became clear she lacked adequate support to secure approval from a key legislative committee. 

Much of those legislative reservations stemmed from a letter of support for now-U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, which Glover signed in 2017. Glover and Barrett both served as Supreme Court clerks and the former joined other prior clerks in endorsing Barrett’s ascension to an appellate court. The letter prompted concerns over Glover’s commitment to protecting abortion rights, given Barrett’s eventual role in overturning Roe v. Wade.

However, lawmakers had other concerns about Glover, including a lack of experience in state courts and her background as a prosecutor. Some advocates and lawmakers worry that former prosecutors are over-represented on Connecticut’s bench.

Dannehy’s appointment only reinforces those concerns. 

On Friday, the People’s Parity Project — a group that lobbies to balance the court with judges from different backgrounds like public defenders or civil rights attorneys — issued a statement arguing that Lamont had failed to take the right lessons from the failure of the Glover nomination. 

“While Attorney Dannehy is a very experienced attorney, we are disappointed to see the Governor nominate yet another prosecutor to the state’s highest court when we still do not have a single appellate-level judge with experience in public defense, legal aid, or civil rights,” Steve Kennedy, a director of the group, said. 

Sen. Gary Winfield is a New Haven Democrat who co-chairs the Judiciary Committee, the legislative panel, which Dannehy’s nomination must clear before she can be confirmed. In an interview Friday, Winfield said he expects to hold a confirmation hearing in the next couple weeks. 

Although he said the hearing will likely go smoother than the committee’s contentious hearing on Glover, Winfield said many members would have liked to see a nominee with a more diverse background. 

“It’s not a slight against who you are, but people want to see people with different life experiences,” Winfield said. “Of course race plays into this. There was a concern put forward by some interest groups who said to put forward a Black woman or a woman of color. In one way or another, there are just a lot of interests that seem not to be recognized, whether intentional or not, and people are right to express those concerns.”

Winfield said he personally expressed those ideas to the governor in a recent meeting and came away with the opinion that Lamont understood the concerns. 

“Look, he’s going to catch some flak on this. We know that,” Winfield said. “If he makes another pick and he doesn’t hew to what he’s suggested he now understands, I think it’s going to be completely problematic. I don’t think you can do that again.”