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Quinnipiac law professor Sarah Russell nominated to federal court

President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the dedication of the Dodd Center for Human Rights at the University of Connecticut in Storrs.
Yehyun Kim
Connecticut Mirror
President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the dedication of the Dodd Center for Human Rights at the University of Connecticut in Storrs.

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.

She 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.

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.

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.

This story was originally published by The Connecticut Mirror.

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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