President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the dedication of the Dodd Center for Human Rights at the University of Connecticut in Storrs on Oct. 15, 2021. Yehyun Kim /

This story has been updated

President Joe Biden will nominate state Superior Court Judge Vernon Oliver to sit on the U.S. District Court in Connecticut as the administration and congressional Democrats continue to prioritize filling vacancies on the federal judiciary.

Oliver has served on the Connecticut Superior Court in Middletown since 2009. His legal experience in the state has spanned more than two decades and across multiple roles.

He served in a leadership role in Connecticut’s Office of the Attorney General from 2004 to 2009. Prior to that, Oliver was the assistant state’s attorney in the Connecticut Division of Criminal Justice and also worked as an associate at Glastonbury law firm Montstream & May LLP.

Oliver would fill the seat of Judge Stefan Underhill if he wins confirmation in the Senate.

Over the past two years, the Senate has approved a couple of Biden’s picks for federal court positions in Connecticut. Judge Sarah Merriam was confirmed last September to serve on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The New York City-based court has jurisdiction over Connecticut, New York and Vermont.

And in March, the Senate confirmed then-Connecticut Supreme Court Justice Maria Araújo Kahn to also sit on the 2nd Circuit. Three of the 13 lifetime appointments on the appellate court go to nominees from Connecticut.

With a divided government in Congress that makes passing legislation more challenging, the appointment of federal judges has been a major priority for the Biden administration as well as for Democrats who hold a narrow majority in the Senate. Biden has sought to expand diversity on the federal bench when it comes to gender, race and professional background, such as increasing the number of public defenders.

The Senate has confirmed more than 120 of Biden’s judicial nominees since he took office in 2021, a number that is higher than his past three predecessors at this point in their presidencies. White House staffers have been more recently consulting with senators to help expedite the process of finding potential candidates in their home states.

But filling judicial vacancies has been more difficult of late due to the longer-than-anticipated absence of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who has been back home since March after her hospitalization with shingles. 

Democrats worry her absence on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which processes the president’s judicial nominees, could hold up some nominations from moving toward final confirmation if they do not receive any Republican support.

Senate leadership sought to temporarily replace her on the committee until her return, but Republicans blocked the effort, saying they will only fill the role if Feinstein resigns from Congress. She is retiring at the end of her current term but plans to serve through 2024.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that Judge Vernon Oliver would fill the seat vacated by Sarah Merriam. He would fill the seat of Stefan Underhill.

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Lisa HagenFederal Policy Reporter

Lisa Hagen is CT Mirror and CT Public's shared Federal Policy Reporter. Based in Washington, D.C., she focuses on the impact of federal policy in Connecticut and covers the state’s congressional delegation. Lisa previously covered national politics and campaigns for U.S. News & World Report, The Hill and National Journal’s Hotline. She is a New Jersey native and graduate of Boston University.