Gov. Ned Lamont introduced Nora R. Dannehy at a press conference Friday as his nominee to the Connecticut Supreme Court, a second effort to fill a vacancy after an earlier nominee failed to win confirmation by the General Assembly.
Dannehy, 62, of Glastonbury is a prominent figure in legal circles as a former general counsel to Lamont, a deputy state attorney general and a long-time and accomplished federal prosecutor.
If confirmed, she would follow her late father, Joseph Dannehy, as a member of the state’s highest court. The announcement followed days of outreach by the governor to assess support for Dannehy.
While previous nominations were announced perfunctorily via emailed press releases, the outreach and press conference demonstrated the administration’s willingness to more aggressively vet and promote a nominee.
“It’s really important for the administration to get out front, over-communicate, talk to all the legislators, and make sure that nobody jumps to conclusions,” said Lamont, asked about lessons learned from the previous failure. “That was a learning lesson.”
After consultations with legislators, Lamont said he was “very confident” of Dannehy’s confirmation. His preference for Dannehy first was reported Tuesday by CT Mirror.
Even before the press conference had ended, the administration released a joint statement of support for Dannehy from the four top Democrats in the legislature, and individual endorsements from the two leaders of the Republican minorities in the House and Senate.
“It was a very short job interview, because I’ve known her so well,” Lamont said. “And I think most of you know her so well as a woman of incredible integrity, who pursues justice wherever the evidence may lead.”
Sandra Slack Glover, his first nominee for the same vacancy, is the appellate chief for the U.S. Attorney in Connecticut, an important but relatively low profile job. Glover, who began her career in Washington, was unfamiliar to lawmakers and immediately faced skepticism over her commitment to reproductive rights.
In 2017, Glover signed a letter supporting the federal appeals court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative opponent of abortion rights who now sits on the U.S. Supreme Court. They had served as Supreme Court clerks in the October 1998 term, Glover for Sandra Day O’Connor and Barrett for Antonin Scalia.
On the Capitol on Friday, Lamont was joined by Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz and Attorney General William Tong in praising Dannehy for her qualifications, experience and roots in Connecticut.
“I can’t think of anybody better prepared and more ready to be an associate justice than Nora Dannehy in this state today,” Tong said. He said he worked closely with Dannehy during her two years as the governor’s chief counsel.
Bysiewicz, who met Dannehy 45 years ago when both participated in the American Legion’s Girls State civic program, called Dannehy, “a trailblazer for women in the legal profession.”
Dannehy was the lead prosecutor on some of the state’s biggest public corruption cases, including the bid-rigging conviction of former Gov. John G. Rowland after his resignation in 2004. She is a graduate of Wellesley College and Harvard Law School, credentials unmentioned Friday.
“I was born in Willimantic, Connecticut, and I’m a graduate of Windham High School,” Dannehy said in brief remarks. “I served and worked professionally in Connecticut my entire career.”
Dannehy left the Lamont administration at the start of the governor’s second term in January for private practice.
“But my heart is in public service,” Dannehy said. “If confirmed, it would be an honor to once again serve the people of Connecticut.”
She took no questions Friday, but she can expect public questioning from lawmakers at a confirmation hearing in coming weeks. A vote on her confirmation by the full General Assembly is expected on Sept. 26, when lawmakers return for one-day special session.
The most intriguing episode of her long federal career is her resignation in September 2020 as second-in-command of a Department of Justice inquiry into how the FBI handled its probe into connections between Russia and the campaign of former President Donald J. Trump.
Dannehy never publicly explained her resignation, but the New York Times reported in January that she quit to protest what she saw as the politicization of the probe and prosecutorial missteps countenanced by the special counsel, John H. Durham, who served as U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut from 2018 to 2021 and as state prosecutor for years prior to that.
Aside from the issue of the Barrett letter, Glover faced questions about her lack of experience in state courts. Others complained about adding another prosecutor to the court that lacks justices with experience in criminal defense or legal aid. Lamont said a similar question arose about Dannehy’s prosecutorial background.
Sen. Gary Winfield, a Democrat of New Haven, member of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus and chair of the Judiciary Committee, had pressed Lamont in a private conversation to cast a broader net for judicial nominations.
“The concerns are that a lot of picks we’ve seen in judicial nominations are very much of the same mold, if you will, with prosecutors and others with not too dissimilar backgrounds,” Winfield said Friday. “The governor understands that concern, and I believe it was a fruitful conversation.”
Winfield understood that Dannehy would remain his choice, but he believed that the governor was open to broader searches for future vacancies at all levels of the bench. The governor, who has been sensitive to addressing racial and gender disparities in the courts, said he assured Winfield that diversity of all kinds was important to him.
“I think people appreciate the fact we’ve had the most diverse group of jurors that we put on the court over the last four and a half years. And he wanted to make sure we maintain that as a commitment,” Lamont said. “And I said, ‘Look, the quality of people’s qualifications is of absolute importance to me. And you don’t find that in any one niche.’ ”
Steve Kennedy, an organizer of the People’s Parity Project, said his group would continue to seek the nomination of judges from “more diverse backgrounds, including from legal fields that are underrepresented on our state bench.”
“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,” he said.
Kennedy said his group is preparing a report that will show that former corporate and state attorneys, once named to the bench, side most often with state and corporate interests over individuals.
All of Lamont’s four nominations to the seven-seat Supreme Court have been women: first promoting Christine E. Keller, a long-serving trial and appellate judge in 2020, and then Joan K. Alexander in 2022 to succeed Keller as she approached the mandatory retirement age of 70.
Alexander is the only woman on the court.
Lamont nominated Glover, and now Dannehy, to fill the vacancy opened by the resignation of Maria Araújo Kahn, who resigned to accept a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals. Kahn was nominated to the state Supreme Court by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in 2017.