The U.S. Senate on Tuesday confirmed Judge Vernon Oliver to sit on the U.S. District Court in Connecticut as Democrats work to keep installing a more diverse slate of President Joe Biden’s judicial nominees.
Oliver was confirmed in a 53-44 vote with support from four Republican senators. He was nominated by Biden in May to replace Chief Judge Stefan Underhill, who has served on the federal court since 1999 and is taking senior status.
“I think the right to a jury trial — whether civil or criminal — is really at the foundation of our justice system,” Oliver said at his June confirmation hearing. “In Connecticut, it’s a bit of a lengthier process. In the federal district, it’s a quicker process.”
Oliver has deep roots in Connecticut and has spent his entire legal career of more than two decades in the state. He grew up in Bridgeport and received his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Connecticut.
Before becoming a judge, he served in both private practice and as a prosecutor. He worked as an associate at Glastonbury law firm Montstream & May LLP. He was also the assistant state’s attorney in the Connecticut Division of Criminal Justice.
Oliver went on to serve in Connecticut’s Office of the Attorney General from 2004 to 2009 while Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., was state attorney general. Blumenthal has highlighted Oliver’s work as a senior member of the agency’s division of child abuse and neglect.
“I came to know him personally as a vigorous, skilled and aggressive advocate but also as a person of extraordinary compassion and insight,” Blumenthal said in support of Oliver’s nomination at his confirmation hearing.
“He handled those cases with adroitness and insight and vindicated the interests of those children along with the interests of the state of Connecticut,” Blumenthal added.
Since 2009, Oliver has been a judge on the Connecticut Superior Court. He was appointed by former Gov. M. Jodi Rell, a Republican. During that time, he presided over more than 300 bench and jury trials.
Back in June, Oliver testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about his federal judicial nomination. He was introduced by Blumenthal, who sits on the committee, and Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. During his statement of support, Murphy also noted Oliver’s work speaking to student groups about his job and “why they should believe in Connecticut’s judicial system.”
“Judge Oliver has spent a lifetime serving the people of Connecticut and upholding the rule of law. Few people have been more committed to our state than Judge Oliver, and I was proud to recommend his nomination to the White House. I’m glad to see him confirmed today to serve on the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut,” Murphy said in a statement following Oliver’s confirmation.
Over the past two years, the Senate has approved several 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 complicates the passage of legislation, appointing and confirming 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 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.