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CT’s Maria Kahn confirmed by U.S. Senate to 2nd Circuit

The Connecticut State Supreme Court. August, 2021.
Dave Wurtzel
Connecticut Public
The Connecticut State Supreme Court. August, 2021.

The U.S. Senate on Thursday confirmed Maria Araújo Kahn to sit on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, becoming the latest of President Joe Biden’s judicial nominees to secure approval and opening up a vacancy on the Connecticut Supreme Court.

Kahn, 58, was confirmed in a 51-42 vote with support from two Republican senators. She will replace Judge José Cabranes, who was appointed to the 2nd Circuit by former President Bill Clinton in 1994 and will now be semi-retired as he takes senior status.

Kahn has served as an associate justice for Connecticut’s highest court since 2017. Her legal career also includes time as a former federal prosecutor and public defender, and she has served as a judge for a state Superior Court in New Haven and the Connecticut Appellate Court. Sen. Chris Murphy and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, both Democrats from Connecticut, supported her nomination.

The influential 2nd Circuit Court, which handles appeals on cases related to securities and antitrust issues, is based in New York City with jurisdiction over Connecticut, New York and Vermont. Three of the 13 lifetime appointments go to nominees from Connecticut. Biden filled two of those Connecticut seats, while former President Donald Trump appointed William Nardini in 2019.

Kahn’s nomination is part of an ongoing effort by Biden to reshape the federal judiciary and expand diversity when it comes to not only gender and race, but also professional background. Biden set the record last year for the number of public defenders appointed to federal appellate courts. Kahn became Biden’s 116th judicial nominee to be confirmed since he took office in 2021.

“Maria Kahn’s immense integrity and intellect are reflected in today’s bipartisan approval of her nomination,” Blumenthal said after the Senate Judiciary Committee approved her nomination in February. “She has extraordinary experience as a prosecutor, public defender, judge and justice that will enrich and strengthen the Court of Appeals. She also has an inspiring American immigrant story, distinguished by hard work and perseverance.”

Because the Senate did not complete the confirmation process for Kahn before the end of the year, Biden and lawmakers had to restart it during the new session of Congress. Biden initially nominated her for the vacancy last July and renominated her in early January. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted for her nomination again in February, prompting the full Senate to consider her confirmation.

When she appeared before the Judiciary Committee for her confirmation hearing in September, Kahn spoke to her experiences as both a law clerk and an immigrant and how they have informed her time on the bench. She largely avoided tough questioning as Republican members focused most of their attention on a fellow judicial nominee who testified alongside Kahn.

“None of us could have imagined that, one day, I would be before this committee as a nominee to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. This could only happen in this great nation,” Kahn said before the Judiciary Committee in September. She was born in Angola to Portuguese parents and emigrated from Africa to the U.S. at the age of 10.

At the hearing, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., highlighted her work as the lead investigator and prosecutor looking into a Ponzi scheme in the early 2000s. She worked on the case involving Hakan Yalincak, a former student of New York University, who defrauded the school and persuaded investors to give money to a fake hedge fund company.

In addition to Kahn, Biden also appointed Sarah Merriam to sit on the 2nd Circuit for Connecticut. The president first nominated Merriam for the U.S. District Court in Connecticut, but with less than a year in that position, he elevated her to serve on the federal appellate court. The Senate confirmed Merriam to the 2nd Circuit in September in a bipartisan 53-44 vote.

With Kahn leaving the Connecticut Supreme Court, Gov. Ned Lamont will be tasked with nominating a new associate justice, who will then be considered by the General Assembly for the eight-year term.

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.

Lisa Hagen is CT Public and CT Mirror’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.

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