On April 27, 2022, President Joe Biden announced his intent to nominate Sarah A.L. Merriam to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Judge Merriam has served as a U.S. District Court Judge for the District of Connecticut since October 2021. Previously, she was a U.S. Magistrate Judge, an Assistant Federal Public Defender, and worked in private practice.
Sarah A.L. Merriam was born in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1971 and grew up in New Haven, Connecticut. She graduated from Georgetown University, cum laude, in 1993. After college, Judge Merriam spent several years working, including serving as political director for the Connecticut Employees Union Independent/SEIU Local 511. She began her legal education at the University of Connecticut School of Law before transferring to Yale Law School, from which she earned her J.D. in 2000. In May 2018, Judge Merriam earned her L.L.M. in Judicial Studies from Duke Law School.
Following law school, Judge Merriam clerked for Judge Alvin W. Thompson on the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut from 2000 to 2002 and for Judge Thomas J. Meskill on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit from 2002 to 2003. Judge Meskill was a former Republican elected official who was originally nominated to the Second Circuit by President Nixon, then re-nominated by President Ford. Reflecting on her time as a clerk for Judge Meskill, Judge Merriam said, “I learned how to separate my political views from my legal opinions.” After her clerkships, she entered private practice, joining the Hartford office of Cowdery, Ecker & Murphy, LLC as an associate. In this role, Judge Merriam worked on a variety of civil and criminal matters, primarily in federal court. From 2006 to 2007, she left legal practice to work on political campaigns for now-Senator Chris Murphy and former Senator Chris Dodd.
In 2007, Judge Merriam joined the Office of the Federal Defender for the District of Connecticut as an Assistant Federal Defender. She served in the office for eight years, performing the essential work of representing indigent individuals charged with federal crimes and ensuring their constitutional rights were protected. During her time as a public defender, Judge Merriam appeared in federal court almost daily and was responsible for all matters from initial appearance through guilty plea or trial, appeal, and post-conviction proceedings. As an example of a typical case she handled, in United States v. Rose Judge Merriam represented a woman who was charged with bank fraud for allegedly writing checks to herself without authorization from her employer’s account. See No. 3:12MJ00286(HBF) (D. Conn.). The offense was rooted in the client’s addiction. After Ms. Rose completed nearly two years of inpatient and outpatient treatment, Judge Merriam obtained a pretrial diversion agreement. Ms. Rose successfully completed the pretrial diversion period and the charges against her were officially dismissed, more than four years after her initial arrest.
In addition to her caseload, Judge Merriam regularly advised Criminal Justice Act attorneys and private attorneys on the Federal Sentencing Guidelines and criminal history issues. She also provided training for defense attorneys on various issues, including cell site location evidence, DNA evidence, and Second Circuit appeals.
In December 2014, Judge Merriam was selected by the District Judges of the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut to serve as a U.S. Magistrate Judge. She was sworn in on April 3, 2015, and served for more than six years until her elevation to the District Court.
On June 15, 2021, President Biden nominated Judge Merriam to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut. She was confirmed by the U.S. Senate by a 54–46 vote on October 6, 2021, with support from Republican Senators Collins, Graham, Murkowski, and Tillis. Judge Merriam’s nomination garnered support from people across the ideological spectrum, including endorsements from 26 former federal prosecutors and former advisors and appointees of Republican officials. Upon her confirmation, she became the first former public defender to serve in the District of Connecticut since 1964.
As a U.S. Magistrate Judge and U.S. District Court Judge for over seven years, Judge Merriam has presided over hundreds of cases on a wide range of civil and criminal issues and has served in a settlement role in hundreds of other matters. She has also presided over five cases that have gone to judgment or verdict after trial. Judge Merriam’s time on the bench demonstrates that she is an evenhanded jurist committed to the rule of law and equal justice for all. The following cases are illustrative of her record.
During her time on the bench, Judge Merriam has adjudicated a significant number of civil cases. In Doe v. Hicks, Ms. Doe sued for negligence and infliction of emotional distress after she was sexually assaulted while staying in a hotel; she alleged that hotel employees had reason to know she was in danger and failed to protect her. Magistrate Judge Merriam presided over case management, various discovery issues, and settlement efforts. After ruling on a motion for sanctions, she requested the matter be reassigned to another Magistrate Judge to ensure the separation of the merits and settlement efforts of the case.
In Goff v. Chivers, plaintiffs Shirley Goff and Gregory Gibson brought civil claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against state police officers who conducted a traffic stop. The driver, Ms. Goff, alleged she was subjected to excessive force during her arrest; the passenger, Mr. Gibson, alleged police violated his Fourth Amendment rights to be free from false arrest and malicious prosecution. Illustrative of her balanced approach, after applying the relevant legal standards, Magistrate Judge Merriam found for the defendant as to Ms. Goff’s excessive force claim and for the plaintiff as to Mr. Gibson’s false arrest claim. She also awarded $38,500 in damages to Mr. Gibson.
Judge Merriam has demonstrated her criminal law expertise since joining the bench. In World v. Semple, an incarcerated individual brought Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference claims against the Connecticut Department of Correction (DOC) for misdiagnosing his skin cancer as psoriasis and refusing to perform tests when his condition worsened. Magistrate Judge Merriam held several in-person conferences, including one where she visited the plaintiff in the hospital, and dozens of phone conferences. Eventually, the parties reached a settlement in which the DOC agreed to pay $1.3 million. Magistrate Judge Merriam also handled a later dispute concerning the transfer of funds to the plaintiff’s attorney.
In In re Application for Search Warrant, the government applied for a warrant to search fourteen electronic devices allegedly belonging to or used by the target of an investigation. See 527 F. Supp. 3d 179 (D. Conn. 2020). Magistrate Judge Merriam conducted an analysis of four factors set forth by the Second Circuit to determine whether the warrant was appropriate. She found that two factors — the length of the delay and the government’s justification for it — weighed strongly against issuance of the warrant; however, the other two factors — the importance of the seized property to the target and whether the target had a reduced property interest in those items — weighed strongly in favor of issuance of the warrant. On balance, Magistrate Judge Merriam reasoned that while the delay was unreasonable, the actual impact of that delay on the rights and property interests of the target was minimal. Accordingly, she concluded that the search warrant was appropriate.
Judge Merriam has taken an active role in local bar associations and organizations. For example, from 2000 to 2019 she was a member of the Connecticut Bar Association’s Federal Practice Section, which disseminates information to Connecticut federal court practitioners about new legal and procedural developments. She also served on various judicial-related committees as part of the Federal Magistrate Judges Association and on the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut. Since joining the bench, Judge Merriam frequently volunteers by giving speeches to school groups, judging mock trials, presiding over naturalization ceremonies, and presenting at continuing education seminars.