Senate committee recommends former Hartford attorney U.S. District Judge to federal appeals court as midterms approach

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The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee recommended confirmation Thursday of District Judge Sarah A.L. Merriam’s nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

The committee voted 12-10, largley along party lines in favor of Merriam, with one Republican senator joining Democrats. The full Senate must vote to confirm Merriam and is expected to do so easily.

President Joseph P. Biden nominated Merriam, a former federal public defender and U.S. Magistrate judge, to the federal district court and she was confirmed in October. Her almost immediate nomination to the circuit court - just months after she easily won Senate approval - is seen by court watchers as a measure of the administration’s desire to move judicial nominations quickly before the Democrats risk losing the Senate in the November mid-term election.

“The Senate will confirm Merriam soon, perhaps before the July 4 recess,” said University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias, who tracks federal judicial nominations.

Even as Merriam appeared at the Senate, the White House was running background checks on two prospective nominees for a third Connecticut seat on the circuit court — one a member of the state Supreme Court and a second a member of the Yale Law School. For years, it had been accepted that Connecticut had two seats on appeals court, which takes cases from Connecticut, Vermont and New York. But U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn, said earlier this year his research shows Connecticut has historically had three appointments and that New York’s senior U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer agreed to give one up.

Because of the Senate’s summer vacation schedule and the prospect of members leaving Washington to campaign in September, there is pressure on the White House move quickly to nominate a judge for a third Connecticut seat in order to clear the time-consuming confirmation process by year’s end.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal , urged fellow committee members to approve Merriam, whose nomination he and fellow U.S. Sen. Christopher Murphy recommended to the White House.

“Judge Merriam reflects the tremendous experience, character and intellect that is paramount to serving in our judicial system,” Blumenthal said. “She has said that she believes that partisan politics has no place in judicial chambers. And I believe that she will carry this practice with her to the court or appeals.”

Merriam was a law clerk for former governor and federal appeals court Judge Thomas Meskill and U.S. District Judge Alvin Thompson.

If confirmed, she would replace U.S. Circuit Judge Susan Carney, former deputy general counsel at Yale University, nominated by President Barak Obama and confirmed in 2011. Merriam’s elevation opens another seat on the federal district court.

Merriam, who grew up in New Haven, attended Georgetown University as an undergraduate and law school at the University of Connecticut and Yale University. Prior to becoming an assistant federal defender, she served as an associate at the law firm of Cowdery, Ecker & Murphy in Hartford.

She also worked as political director to a state employee union local and managed or helped manage campaigns for two Democratic U.S. senators — Murphy and former U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd.