Gov. Ned Lamont’s Sept. 15, 2023 proclamation calling for a special session

Gov. Ned Lamont called Friday on the state legislature to return to Hartford next week for a special session to confirm Nora Dannehy, his pick to fill a vacancy on the state Supreme Court bench. 

Lamont issued a proclamation requiring lawmakers to begin a special session on Tuesday, Sept. 19. Once the legislature has begun the session, the governor will formally nominate Dannehy, allowing the legislature’s Judiciary Committee to screen her during a hearing scheduled for Wednesday morning. 

Dannehy is a former federal prosecutor and former deputy attorney general who also served as Lamont’s general counsel during much of the COVID-19 pandemic. The governor announced his plan to nominate her during a press conference earlier this month, when he described her career including efforts to crack down on public corruption. 

“[S]he cares deeply about justice,” the governor said. “She’s going to be an extraordinary justice on the Supreme Court.”

Dannehy represents Lamont’s second attempt to fill a state Supreme Court vacancy left by former Justice Maria Araújo Kahn, who resigned earlier this year after being confirmed to serve as a judge in a federal appeals court.

The governor hopes Dannehy will win the approval of the Judiciary Committee, a step his previous nominee, federal prosecutor Sandra Slack Glover, did not attain due to concerns among lawmakers.

The committee tabled Glover’s nomination without a vote after a lengthy hearing, largely focussed on her decision to sign a 2017 letter endorsing current U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett for a post on an appellate court. Both Barrett and Glover served as Supreme Court clerks together, however lawmakers voiced concerns based on Barrett’s eventual role in overturning Roe v. Wade.

Lawmakers also questioned Glover’s lack of experience in state courtrooms. Glover, chief of the Appellate Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut, withdrew herself from consideration in May.

In an interview Friday, Rep. Steve Stafstrom, a Bridgeport Democrat who co-chairs the Judiciary Committee, said members of the legal panel were more familiar with Dannehy based on her prior work in and around state government.

“We haven’t vote-counted it yet or caucused it, but I think there’s a general comfort with Nora,” Stafstrom said. “Folks certainly know her from her time in the governor’s office and before that, working with the Attorney General’s Office. She’s certainly someone who is known to members of the committee.”

However, some argue that, as a former U.S. Attorney, Dannehy would add more prosecutorial experience to a court that is already over-represented by former prosecutors and corporate attorneys. 

The People’s Parity Project has pushed for more professional diversity among judges in Connecticut courts, arguing that data suggested that the background of judges influence their decisions once they are on the bench.

On Friday, the group released a report studying three years of state Supreme Court decisions and concluding that Justice Steven Ecker, the court’s only former plaintiffs’ attorney, was more likely to dissent in favor of people over corporations or the state. 

“Advocates, including the People’s Parity Project, had called on the governor to nominate someone who worked for people, such as a public defender or legal aid or civil rights attorney,” the group said in a Friday press release. “Despite making statements about the importance of diversity on the bench, Lamont chose another nominee with prosecution and corporate experience instead, pushing the groups toward opposing his pick.”

Stafstrom called the group’s concerns valid, but also argued that certain former prosecutors can be more effective at recognizing instances when prosecutors cut corners in service of winning a conviction. 

For instance, Stafstrom said that Justice Joan Alexander, a former state prosecutor, had proven to be a fair-minded jurist who was not overly sympathetic to prosecutors. 

“It can cut both ways,” Stafstrom said. “But certainly it is a fair criticism and a fair concern that we make sure that we are looking for professional diversity.”