|Connecticut Supreme Court|
Seal of the State of Connecticut Judicial Branch
|Authorized by||Connecticut Constitution|
|Appeals to||Supreme Court of the United States|
|Number of positions||7|
|Currently||Richard A. Robinson|
|Since||May 3, 2018|
The Connecticut Supreme Court, formerly known as the Connecticut Supreme Court of Errors, is the highest court in the U.S. state of Connecticut. It consists of a Chief Justice and six Associate Justices. The seven justices sit in Hartford, across the street from the Connecticut State Capitol. It generally holds eight sessions of two to three weeks per year, with one session each September through November and January through May. Justices are appointed by the governor and then approved by the Connecticut General Assembly.
The current Connecticut Supreme Court includes:
|Title||Name||Joined the court||Current term ends||Appointed by||Alma Mater|
|Chief Justice||Richard A. Robinson||2018||2023||Dan Malloy (D)||West Virginia University College of Law|
|Associate Justice||Richard N. Palmer||1993||2025||Lowell Weicker (I)||University of Connecticut School of Law|
|Associate Justice||Andrew J. McDonald||2013||2021||Dan Malloy (D)||University of Connecticut School of Law|
|Associate Justice||Gregory D'Auria||2017||2025||Dan Malloy (D)||University of Connecticut School of Law|
|Associate Justice||Raheem L. Mullins||2017||2025||Dan Malloy (D)||Northeastern University School of Law|
|Associate Justice||Maria Araujo Kahn||2017||2025||Dan Malloy (D)||Fordham University School of Law|
|Associate Justice||Steven D. Ecker||2018||2026||Dan Malloy (D)||Harvard Law School|
|Senior Associate Justice||Christine S. Vertefeuille||2000||--||John G. Rowland (R)||University of Connecticut School of Law|
Justices must retire upon reaching the age of 70. They may continue to hear cases as Judge Trial Referees in the Superior Court or the Appellate Court. Justices may assume Senior Status before attaining age 70 and continue to sit with the Supreme Court, as needed. Multiple justices have availed themselves of this option. For example, Justice Ellen Ash Peters took senior status in 1996, continuing to sit until 2000 and Justice Angelo Santaniello assumed senior status in 1987 and continued to sit as needed until 1994. Justice Armentano assumed senior status in 1983 but continued to sit with the Court as needed. Chief Justice Callahan assumed senior status in 1999 but served for approximately another year as a Senior Justice. Chief Justice Sullivan assumed senior status in 2006 but continued to sit until 2009. Justice Vertefeuille assumed senior status in 2010 but has remained active with the Court.
In the event of a recusal or absence, a judge of the Appellate or Superior Court may be called to sit with the Supreme Court. One of the most recent instances of a lower court judge being called to "pinch-hit" was Judge Thomas Bishop of the Appellate Court in Bysiewicz v. Dinardo.Then-Appellate Court Judge Lubbie Harper (who later served as a Justice of the Supreme Court) also sat with the Supreme Court in the landmark case of Kerrigan v. Commissioner of Public Health. Judge Francis X. Hennessy also frequently served by designation on the Court.
Notable former justices include:
The Supreme Court of Connecticut was created in 1784. Prior to this, the power to review lower court rulings was vested in the General Assembly, which determined appeals by examining trial court records. Even after its creation, the Court was not completely independent of the executive and legislative branches, since its members included the Lieutenant Governor, members of the Council (or upper chamber of the General Assembly), and, in 1794, the Governor.
In 1806, the number of Superior Court judges was increased from five to nine and those judges, sitting together, constituted the Supreme Court, replacing the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Council Members. The General Assembly, however, retained the power to overturn the court's rulings. Twelve years later, in 1818, the Connecticut Constitution established an independent judiciary, with the Supreme Court of Errors as the state's highest court. (The words "of Errors" were deleted in 1965). The creation of an independent judiciary established the third branch of government, which is responsible for interpreting the laws enacted by the legislative branch of government.
In 1982, in response to an overwhelming Supreme Court docket, Connecticut's voters approved a constitutional amendment creating the intermediate Connecticut Appellate Court.
The court's ruling on April 19, 1977 in Horton v. Meskill (172 Conn. 615) held that the right to education in Connecticut is so basic and fundamental that any intrusion on the right must be strictly scrutinized. The Court said that public school students are entitled to equal enjoyment of the right to education, and a system of school financing that relied on local property tax revenues without regard to disparities in town wealth and that lacked significant equalizing state support was unconstitutional. It could not pass the test of strict judicial scrutiny. The Court also held that the creation of a constitutional system for education financing is a job for the legislature and not the courts. Chief Justice House wrote the majority opinion. Justices Bogdanski, Longo, and Barber concurred in the decision, and Justice Bogdanski filed a concurring opinion. Justice Loiselle dissented from the majority opinion.
The Court (610 A.2d 1225), speaking through Justice Robert I. Berdon, delineated a six-factor test to assess claims of rights under the Connecticut Constitution. The six factors are:
This test has subsequently formed the underpinnings of subsequent decisions interpreting and guiding the meaning of the Connecticut Constitution, including that the Connecticut Constitution affords greater protections than its Federal counterpart--including the Kerrigan decision discussed below, and Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Educational Funding v. Rell. Chief Justice Ellen Ash Peters and Justice David Shea and Justice Robert Glass joined Justice Berdon's majority opinion. Justice Alfred Covello dissented.
Sheff v. O'Neill is a landmark Connecticut Supreme Court decision (Sheff v. O'Neill, 238 Conn. 1, 678 A.2d 1267) regarding civil rights and the right to education. On July 9, 1996, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that the state had an affirmative obligation to provide Connecticut's school children with a substantially equal educational opportunity and that this constitutionally guaranteed right encompasses the access to a public education which is not substantially and materially impaired by racial and ethnic isolation. This was a split 4-3 decision, which was authored by Chief Justice Ellen Ash Peters. Peters was joined in the majority opinion by Justices Robert Berdon, Flemming L. Norcott, Jr., and Joette Katz. Justice David M. Borden authored the dissent, with Justices Robert Callahan and Richard Palmer concurring.
One of the most important cases the court has decided was Kelo v. City of New London (2004), appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The state court sided with the city in a 4-3 decision, with the majority opinion authored by Justice Norcott and joined by Justices Borden, Palmer and Vertefeuille. Justice Zarella wrote an unusually lengthy and considered dissent (joined by Justices Sullivan and Katz), due to the importance of the case and the high likelihood that the United States Supreme Court would grant certiorari. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Connecticut Supreme Court's decision in favor of the city, in a 5-4 decision, with the dissent written by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and joined by Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. The Kelo decision is studied as a continuation of the expansion of governments' power to seize property through eminent domain, although the widespread negative popular reaction has spurred a backlash in which many state legislatures have curtailed their eminent domain power.
On Monday, June 21, 2004, Gov. John G. Rowland announced his resignation amid allegations of graft and a movement to impeach him for accepting gifts. The resignation came several days after the Court ruled on June 18 that the state House Select Committee of Inquiry, which was weighing whether to impeach Rowland, could compel the governor to testify.
Those joining the majority in this opinion (Office of the Governor v. Selected Committee of Inquiry to Recommend Whether Sufficient Grounds Exist for the House of Representatives to Impeach Governor John G. Rowland Pursuant to Article Ninth of the State Constitution, SC 17211), included Justices Borden, Norcott, Katz, Palmer and Vertefeuille. In an extraordinary action, all five majority justices signed their names as authors of the opinion. Dissenting were Chief Justice Sullivan and Justice Zarella.
On October 10, 2008, the court ruled in Kerrigan v. Commissioner of Public Health that gay and lesbian couples could not be denied the right to marry because of the Equal Protection Clause of the state constitution. This decision made Connecticut the third state (along with Massachusetts and California) to legalize same-sex marriage through judicial decree of the state supreme court. Chief Justice Rogers, who did not participate in the decision, was replaced by appellate Judge Lubbie Harper, Jr. The majority opinion was written by Justice Palmer, and joined by Justices Norcott, Katz, and Judge Harper. Justices Zarella, Vertefeuille, and Borden dissented.
In George L. Rosado et al. v. Bridgeport Roman Catholic Diocesan Corporation et al. (SC 17807), 292 Conn. 1 (2009) the majority opinion of the court, authored by Justice Katz, and joined by Chief Justice Rogers, and Justices Palmer and Vertefeuille, effectively ordered the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport to release thousands of legal documents from previous lawsuits filed against priests accused of sexually abusing children. A dissenting opinion was authored by Justice Sullivan. The Connecticut Supreme Court case stemmed from a suit brought by the Boston Globe, Hartford Courant, The New York Times and The Washington Post in 2002. On October 5, 2009, the United States Supreme Court rejected a request by the diocese for the court to stay or reconsider the Connecticut opinion ordering the release of the documents. The documents were released at the Waterbury Superior Courthouse on December 1, 2009. The diocese has provided background and a statement on the suit and its status.
In State v. Santiago, 318 Conn. 1, the Connecticut Supreme Court held that, after the state legislature had abolished capital punishment for prospective cases in 2012, imposition of the death penalty for already convicted and sentenced prisoners was unconstitutional under the Constitution of Connecticut as "excessive and disproportionate punishment". Justice Palmer authored the 4-3 majority opinion holding the death penalty as violating the state constitution's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment while the dissenters (Chief Justice Rogers and Justices Zarella and Espinosa) charged the majority with substituting its own judgment for that of the legislature, which in 2012 had declined retrospective effect of Public Act 12-5 (P.A. 12-5), An Act Revising the Penalty for Capital Felonies.
The court became embroiled in a lengthy ethics scandal in 2006 when the Hartford Courant revealed that retiring Chief Justice William J. Sullivan postponed the publication of a controversial decision opposing Freedom of Information Act requests for documents that track the status and history of legal cases in the Connecticut legal system until hearings for his successor Justice Peter T. Zarella were completed. Legislators speculated Sullivan delayed the publication of the court's opinion because he feared it might damage Zarella's chances of becoming Chief Justice. Both justices ruled in favor of the restrictions. Governor M. Jodi Rell rescinded Zarella's nomination to be Chief Justice after the Courant's revelation.
After the Hartford Courant reported Sullivan's actions, it was revealed that fellow justice David M. Borden was the person who came forward with the information. The incident caused a firestorm in the legislature and judiciary. Sullivan was referred to the Judicial Review Council, which suspended him for violating judicial ethics rules. Angry legislators led by Senator Andrew McDonald grilled Sullivan at an investigative hearing, where he repeatedly apologized for his actions.
Gov. Rell nominated Chase T. Rogers to the position of Chief Justice. Rogers had experience as an Appellate and Superior Court judge. After receiving a unanimous vote for confirmation from the General Assembly, she was sworn in as Chief Justice on April 25, 2007.