Senate confirms President Biden’s nomination of Sarala Nagala, Omar Williams for U.S.

The U.S. Senate has confirmed Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarala Nagala and Superior Court Judge Omar Williams for U.S. District Court judgeships, the final two of President Joe Biden’s nominees for three open seats on the state’s federal bench.

The Senate confirmed former federal public defender Sarah Merriam earlier this month for the third seat.

All three of the state judges moved rapidly through the Senate approval process and were confirmed for the lifetime appointments by almost identical, partisan votes after nomination by Biden, who promised during his first days in office to diversify the administration of federal justice by nominating judges “who reflect the best of America, and who look like America.” Nagala and Williams were confirmed 52-46, and Merriam 54-46.

Nagala, a career prosecutor, becomes the first federal judge appointed in Connecticut of Asian or south Asian background. Williams, who is Black, was a state public defender for 11 years before being appointed to a state judgeship by former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. He is the fourth Black appointee among the state’s 12 active and semiretired federal judges. Merriam, who is white, was a federal public defender before being appointed a federal Magistrate Judge in 2015.

“Sarala Vidya Nagala and Omar Williams are well qualified, mainstream nominees, who are divers in terms of ethnicity, gender, and ideology,” said University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias, who tracks federal judicial nominations. “Nagala brings long experience as a federal prosecutor and Williams brings experience as a sitting state court judge and state public defender. They had smooth hearings and strong support of both Connecticut senators and their confirmations will mean that the district has all of its vacancies filled, which will enable the court to promptly, economically and fairly resolve its substantial caseload.”

Three openings on the influential federal bench is unusual in a small state such as Connecticut, which is allocated eight federal judgeships, lifetime appointments with a salary of about $219,000. The judges work with their staffs at courthouses in Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven and preside over cases involving business disputes, civil rights complaints and sophisticated crime such as interstate fraud, racketeering and political corruption. Seven semiretired, or senior federal judges continue to work in the state.

All three judges were recommended to the White House by Connecticut’s two Democartic Senators, Richard Blumenthal and Christopher Murphy. Blumenthal, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, praised Biden’s call for diversity, and accused former President Donald Trump of appointing judges who share an ideological bias.

Nagala, a graduate of Stanford University and the University of California School of Law, was hired as a federal prosecutors in 2012. She began prosecuting child exploitation, identity theft and crimes involving fraud in government programs. In 2016 she was appointed deputy chief of the major crimes and national security unit and also coordinates human trafficking and hate crimes prosecutions.

Williams graduated with honors from the University of Connecticut and its law school. He was appointed to the Superior Court in 2014 and, two years later, was named heard of the criminal courts in Hartford.

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