Sarah Russell, a professor at Quinnipiac University School of Law, has been nominated to serve on the U.S. District Court in Connecticut. Courtesy of Quinnipiac University

President Joe Biden will nominate Quinnipiac University law professor Sarah Russell, who previously served as a federal public defender, to sit on the U.S. District Court in Connecticut.

Russell, who has taught at Quinnipiac since 2011, is the director of the law school’s Legal Clinic and works on juvenile sentencing and parole issues. Through the clinic, students are able to represent low-income clients who may not otherwise be able to afford legal representation. She did similar work at Yale Law School while serving as director of the Arthur Liman Public Interest Program.

Jennifer Brown, dean of the Quinnipiac University School of Law, called her nomination “an extremely well-deserved honor that recognizes Professor Russell’s wisdom, expertise, and compassion.”

Russell also currently serves as one of 23 members on the Connecticut Sentencing Commission, an independent state agency that reviews Connecticut’s sentencing policies and can make recommendations about them.

And Russell is counsel to the Federal Grievance Committee for the U.S. District Court in Connecticut, which is the court she has been tapped to serve on by Biden. In her role on the committee, she can investigate attorney ethics complaints.

Russell also has experience as a public defender and as a clerk in federal courtrooms. She was an assistant federal defender in the Federal Public Defender’s Office in New Haven who worked with lower income clients between 2005 to 2007.

And from 2003 to 2005, she worked as a law clerk for a judge on the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Connecticut, New York and Vermont. She was also a law clerk for a judge in the Southern District of New York.

If she gets approval in the Senate, Russell would fill the vacancy left by Judge Sarah Merriam, who was confirmed last September to sit on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court. Merriam served on the U.S. District Court for almost a year before she was elevated and confirmed to the federal appellate court.

“Throughout her stellar career – as a teacher, public defender, and clinic head – upholding the rule of law has been her life’s work,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “She has earned esteem from opposing litigants as well as allies, including prosecutors, judges and defense attorneys. On the Judiciary Committee, I’ll push for her swift confirmation.”

Russell has the support of both Blumenthal and Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. Once she testifies at her confirmation hearing before the Judiciary Committee, that panel will vote on whether to advance her nomination. If she is approved, the entire Senate will consider and vote on confirming her to the federal bench.

“Sarah is not only an experienced litigator, but also an expert in her field as a leading researcher on sentencing policy and juvenile justice,” Murphy said. “I am confident the District of Connecticut will be well served by her deep commitment to fair and equal justice, and I look forward to her confirmation vote.”

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.

Over the past two years, the Senate has confirmed half a dozen Biden’s nominees to federal courts with jurisdiction over Connecticut. All appointees won approval with some support from Republican senators.

In October 2021, Merriam, Omar Antonio Williams and Sarala Vidya Nagala all cleared final Senate votes to become U.S. District Court judges.

A year later, Biden elevated Merriam to the 2nd Circuit Court. And in March, former Connecticut Supreme Court Justice Maria Araújo Kahn joined the same court. Three of the 13 lifetime appointments to the New York City-based appellate court go to a nominee from Connecticut.

And in mid-September, the Senate confirmed Judge Vernon Oliver to sit on the U.S. District Court in Connecticut.

Since taking office in 2021, Biden has made 191 nominations for federal judges. More than 140 of his nominees have so far gotten through the Senate.

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.