Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved Gov. Ned Lamont’s nominee, Nora Dannehy, for the Connecticut Supreme Court on Tuesday.
The Senate approved the appointment of Dannehy with a 31-2 vote, followed by a 120-18 tally in the House.
“I have no doubt that she has the moral compass as well as the intellectual gravitas and wealth of knowledge and, actually, moderate hand on the till to make fair and even handed decisions,” said Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, ranking member on the Judiciary Committee.
Dannehy, of Glastonbury, will fill the position of former Justice Maria Araújo Kahn, who resigned earlier this year after being confirmed to serve as a judge in a federal appeals court.
Her legal career includes service in both the public and private sectors. She was the first woman to serve as U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut and led prosecution of the corruption case against former Gov. John G. Rowland.
She was also deputy attorney general under former Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen, general counsel to Lamont and an associate general counsel for United Technology, now Rayhteon.
Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said Dannehy “has a long history in our legal community” and a “record that is outstanding.”
She did draw some opposition, including from lawmakers who raised concerns about her lack of experience as a judge at any level.
“Without any experience sitting on a court, I have a real problem with that,” Rep. Gale Mastrofrancesco, R-Wolcott, said. Mastrofrancesco was one of the 18 opponents in the House.
Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, said he shared those concerns, but ultimately supported Dannehy’s appointment. He said he was impressed with her answers during a hearing before the committee earlier this month.
“The governor has the power to select anyone, generally, in the world to be on the Connecticut Supreme Court,” Fishbein also said.
Other lawmakers said they were particularly impressed with her explanation for her 2020 departure from an inquiry into how federal intelligence and law enforcement agencies came to investigate whether Russian entities interfered in the 2016 election.
Dannehy told lawmakers she quit the probe due to actions by former President Donald Trump’s Attorney General, William Barr, who pressured investigators to potentially release an incomplete and misleading report.
Rep. Steven Stafstrom, R-Bridgeport, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said the answer, along with Dannehy’s other responses, showed a “sense of ethics and fairness”.
Opponents also pointed to Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive orders during COVID, including his decision requiring nursing homes to accept COVID-positive patients. Dannehy was Lamont’s general counsel at the time.
“The despair that my family has had to endure as a result of many persistent and unrelenting executive orders is a burden that will impact our lives forever,” said Sen. Lisa Seminara, R-Avon, whose father died of COVID in a nursing home.
Winfield spoke glowingly of Dannehy, but said he spoke with Lamont’s office during the process about the need for more diversity among judicial nominees.
“I think there’s a concern about making sure that our bench is reflective of the various experiences that folks have,” Winfield said.
He added he was concerned about both the racial and ethnic diversity of judges at all levels, and about the high ratio of judges who were previously prosecutors.
Lamont’s first nomination was Sandra Slack Glover, appellate chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut. Glover withdrew her nomination after it became clear she could win over the Judiciary Committee, in part because she signed a 2017 letter endorsing current U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett for a post on an appellate court.
Barrett’s eventual role in overturning Roe v. Wade, through the controversial Dobbs decision, was a major point of contention throughout Glover’s confirmation hearing in May.