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A Celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the Supreme Court
and State Library Building
(Part 3 - Supreme Court Courtroom)
By Judge Henry S. Cohn

Supreme Court CourtroomThe third argued case took place in the current Supreme Court courtroom, in the building that was the subject of the celebration. At 2:45 p.m., State Librarian Kendall F. Wiggin gave a brief talk on the building and its opening on December 1, 1910. He mentioned Chief Justice Simeon Baldwin’s interest in moving the Supreme Court from its location at the State Capitol to a new building across the street. The State Library, also at the Capitol, was in need of storage space for books, records and historic archives. With the new building functioning, the State Library on September 21, 1926, received from Governor Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, an important archive of the Trumbull papers, originally given by the family to Massachusetts for safe-keeping. The new building also was constructed with a Memorial Hall, where the founding documents of Connecticut are displayed, as well as portraits of the state’s governors. In conjunction with the Memorial Hall is a state history museum that displays Charter Oak artifacts, Colt guns, and an extensive coin collection. View display poster

The notable cases argued in the Supreme Court courtroom include numerous attacks on Connecticut’s anti-contraception statute. Although the statute was upheld in the Connecticut Supreme Court (see, e.g., State v. Nelson, 126 Conn. 412 (1940), appeals were taken to the U.S. Supreme Court, concluding with Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965) (statute unconstitutional). From Griswold’s rationale, the Supreme Court arrived at its decision in Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) (abortion legal). Other appeals of note were Horton v. Meskill, 172 Conn. 615 (1977) (property tax and equal education in all towns); Sheff v. O’Neill, 238 Conn. 1 (1996) (abolishing de facto segregation); Kelo v. New London, 268 Conn. 1 (2004), affirmed, 545 U.S. 469 (2005) (whether condemnation had legitimate public purpose); and Kerrigan v. Commissioner of Public Health, 289 Conn. 135 (2008) (gay couples have a state constitutional right to marry).

At 3 p.m., the argument in Pham v. Starkowski, SC 18582, on appeal from the Hartford Superior Court, Docket No. CV 09 5034410 (2009). The attorney for the appellant, Department of Social Services Commissioner Starkowski, was Hugh Barber, and the attorney for the appellee, Pham was Nicholas Yorio of the Legal Aid Society of Hartford. The Chief Justice remarked that the ceremony was an important one and complimented the staff on making arrangements. View CT-N VideoPhotos from Supreme Court - Click to see larger

The issue in the appeal was the legality of P.A. 09-05, a public act that had eliminated a social service medical program for aliens residing in Connecticut for less than five years. In 1996 Congress passed a five-year residency rule for legal aliens to qualify for Medicaid, while leaving the states free to change or eliminate the five-year period. Connecticut had acted so that its social services health program did not contain the five-year exclusion; but citing the budget crisis, the General Assembly had in P.A. 09-05 returned to the federal five-year exclusion. The Superior Court had ruled in favor of the aliens, finding that the 2009 public act violated the federal Equal Protection Clause.

The appellant in the Supreme Court, the Department of Social Services, argued that the Superior Court was incorrect in holding that P.A. 09-05 was to be judged under a strict scrutiny standard, not a rational basis standard. If the rational basis test were used, instead of strict scrutiny, interference with a legal alien’s right to medical care could be justified by state budgetary considerations. The Department of Social Services also argued that aliens had no equal protection rights to the social service program in 1996, so that eliminating the program would not amount to discrimination.

The attorneys stayed after oral arguments to discuss the case with the audience, many of whom were University of Hartford paralegal students. One question involved how the attorneys used paralegals to prepare for the oral arguments. The answer was that the paralegal assembled exhibits, prepared appendices, proof-read briefs, engaged in electronic filing of documents, and helped with basic legal research. The attorneys also pointed out that this appeal was rapidly prepared for hearing, as the attorneys agreed to an expedited briefing schedule. The Supreme Court heard the case only one year after the Superior Court Judge filed his opinion. The attorneys and the audience also discussed the recusal of Justice Katz from the day’s proceedings as she was named the next commissioner of the Department of Children and Families. 

Reception (Part 4) >>


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