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Dannehy, a Shoe-In for State Supreme Court


Dannehy -- Connecticut Law Tribune, Gary Lewis

"I want to tell you, Gorsuch, I want to tell you, Kavanaugh, you have released the whirlwind and you will pay the price” – Senator Chuck Schumer

A Hartford Paper’s front page, top of the fold report covering Nora Dannehy’s impending appointment as an associate justice to Connecticut’s State Supreme Court is appropriately subtitled “[Governor Ned] Lamont picks ‘trailblazer for women in the legal profession’ to fill high court vacancy.”

We are told in the report that Dannehy is “known for avoiding the spotlight,” a modesty that befits any Supreme Court Justice, state or national, who hopes to maintain the independence of the court from unwanted and distorting political pressure.

It stands to Dannehy’s credit that she is no Dick Blumenthal, a former state Attorney General known for his brazen journalistic immodesty. It had often been said of Blumenthal, now one of two Democrat U.S. Senators, that the most dangerous place in Connecticut is the space between Blumenthal and a television camera.

Dannehy’s nomination to the bench is a virtual certainty. All the members of Connecticut’s state Supreme Court are Democrat gubernatorial nominees.

One member of the Court, Justice Andrew J. McDonald, was a former Senate co-chair of the General Assembly’s powerful Judicial Committee for eight years, along with then Representative Mike Lawyor.

McDonald was well pickled in political brine, according to his official biography: “Prior to his appointment to the Supreme Court, Justice McDonald served as the General Counsel to the Office of the Governor for the State of Connecticut from 2011 to 2013. In this role, he served as chief legal advisor to the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor and senior staff of the Executive Branch of government. His responsibilities included providing legal counsel and analysis on all aspects of Executive Branch functions and operations, including its interactions with the federal government and the Judicial and Legislative branches of state government.”

It is vital to the independence of the judicial system that court justices shed their political skins when they enter court service, because it is critical that the judicial branch remain free of political entanglements. Independence is lost and court decisions are distorted when judges fly too close to the political flame. We do not want court decisions to be influenced by political influencers once judges are appointed to court positions of any kind.

Dannehy has little political skin to shed, though she was for a time chief council to Governor Ned Lamont. According to the usual encomiums of Democrat office holders, she will make a fine addition to a state Supreme Court, all the members of which have been appointed by left of center Connecticut governors.

In Connecticut, the abortion issue should be no bar to appointment to the state’s high court. The U.S. Supreme Court wisely ruled in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that abortion, a highly unsettled, politically charged issue for decades, is a matter best decided by state legislatures rather than politicized courts. Connecticut imported Roe V. Wade into state statutes way back in 1990, more than three decades ago, and the Dobbs decision offers sound support to the view that the justice system should not veto laws on abortion adopted by state legislators.

While the politically pestiferous Roe v Wade decision would appear to be off the judicial table, at least in Connecticut, the independence of the judiciary from unwanted political interference is very much a point of contention in judicial appointments everywhere in the nation.

In the near future, cynics tell us, everything will be politicized, not excluding – hold onto your hats -- fossil fuel production, the ever changing environment, medical decisions, economic decisions, populist “science,” gas stoves, beer consumption, a once independent judicial branch and pretty much everything that had, until neo-progressivism became the reigning political philosophy in Connecticut and the nation, little or no political fingerprints on it.

What legislators interrogating prospective judges really want to know during their sometimes ridiculously absurd interrogatories is this: Will the prospective judgments of a judicial nominee support or undermine an ideological understanding of law and politics? And may legislators, comfortably secured within ideological paddocks, be assured of the nominee’s judicial support when cowardly legislators would prefer the judiciary to decide matters that might better be decided by courageous legislators?

In recent decades, every judicial interrogatory is an invitation to all prospective justices to become as politically charged as their interrogators. Sometimes the political posture of the appointee is so obvious that close probing will be unnecessary.

Watching deep blue legislators in Connecticut bat down federal prosecutor Sandra Slack Glover’s nomination to the state’s high court was a bit like viewing a tender virginal offering to some unappeasable pagan god. Glover unpardonably offered thumbs up to Amy Coney Barratt’s nomination to a federal appeals court years before she was grilled by legislative ideologues for a position on the U.S. Supreme Court.

So it goes. Cowardly legislators who regularly foist off on the judiciary the hard legislative work they are constitutionally obliged to do want courts to leave their highly prized judicial independence from tawdry political concerns at courtroom doors and join legislators in their confining ideological paddocks.

We should all praise justices who stoutly refuse the invitation, a devil’s bargain that shamelessly destroys the constitutional obligations of legislatures and the jealously guarded, prized independence of the judiciary.  


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