The Senate on Thursday confirmed Judge Sarah Merriam to sit on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, installing President Joe Biden’s first nominee from Connecticut to the New York-based court.
In a 53-44 vote, Merriam’s appointment continues Democrats’ streak of confirming more nominees with public defense backgrounds to federal Circuit Courts. Biden has sought to expand diversity in the federal judiciary when it comes to gender, race and professional background. He set the record for the number of public defenders appointed to Circuit Courts on Wednesday and that number now ticks up to seven with Merriam’s appointment to the bench.
Merriam is a former federal public defender who grew up in New Haven and attended Yale Law School. She went on to serve as a U.S. magistrate judge and then district judge for the U.S. District Court in Connecticut. With less than a year in that position, Biden quickly elevated her with a nomination to the federal appellate court.
Similar to her confirmation to the federal district court last year, three Republican senators joined Democrats — including Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy — in supporting Merriam’s confirmation to the 2nd Circuit. She will fill the seat of retiring U.S. Circuit Judge Susan Carney.
“A widely respected jurist, her bipartisan confirmation is a ringing endorsement of her long history of public service,” said Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Our judicial system will be stronger because of her work. I’m proud to have championed her nomination and look forward to Judge Merriam’s continued service on the federal bench.”
The 2nd Circuit Court is based in New York City and has jurisdiction over Connecticut, New York and Vermont. Three of the 13 lifetime appointments go to a nominee from Connecticut. Biden has the chance to fill two of those Connecticut seats, while former President Donald Trump appointed William Nardini, who’s sat on the bench since 2019.
Brian Ginsberg, an appellate lawyer and partner for a New York-based law firm who has argued before the 2nd Circuit, said the court holds substantial influence because it’s considered a “court of last resort” since the Supreme Court only accepts “a fraction of the cases presented to it.”
“The Second Circuit is often viewed with additional significance attributable to its location in the financial, commercial and media capital of the country and perhaps the world — New York City — which causes the composition of the court’s caseload to reflect an unusually high number of noteworthy business, financial and media cases,” Ginsberg said.
Now, the Senate could turn to confirming Maria Araujo Kahn, another nominee from Connecticut for the 2nd Circuit. It’s unclear when the Senate will take up her nomination as she awaits a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which processes judicial nominations.
Kahn, who serves as an associate justice on the Connecticut Supreme Court, was nominated in late July to replace retiring Judge Jose Cabranes. She is a former federal prosecutor and public defender and has served as a judge on two other state courts. She was born in Angola to Portuguese parents and emigrated from Africa to the U.S. as a child.
Connecticut Democrats are hoping to get to her nomination before the November elections, though they say it’s more likely in the lame duck session before Congress swears in a new session early next year. But if the party hangs on to its slim Senate majority, Democrats will have much more time to work on the confirmation of Kahn and other judicial nominees.
Biden also has the opportunity to make additional appointments for another federal court. With Merriam securing confirmation on Thursday, that opens up her seat on the U.S. District Court for Connecticut. And on the same court, Chief Judge Stefan Underhill recently said he will take senior status in November, according to Law360.
Last year, the Senate confirmed three nominations to the U.S. District Court in Connecticut, which included Merriam. The other judges who were confirmed included Omar Antonio Williams and Sarala Vidya Nagala, who became the first federal judge from Connecticut of South Asian descent.
With Merriam’s confirmation, the Senate has now confirmed 82 federal judges nominated by Biden. He has appointed more federal judges at this point in his presidency than any president since John F. Kennedy, according to Pew Research Center.
“That brings our total for the month of September to five Circuit Court judges, and we now have confirmed more than 80 judicial nominees to the federal bench,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said during a Thursday floor speech. “On numerous occasions, it has been with bipartisan votes, and I thank my Republican colleagues who joined us in voting for these fine nominees.”
The Connecticut Mirror/Connecticut Public Radio federal policy reporter position is made possible, in part, by funding from the Robert and Margaret Patricelli Family Foundation and Engage CT.