The U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed Sri Srinivasan to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Thursday, making him President Obama’s first successful nomination to the court and the first new judge there since 2006.
Srinivasan, the principal deputy solicitor general in the U.S. Justice Department, saw his nomination sail through a normally contentious Senate confirmation process. The 97-0 vote reflected his broad support from the legal community and legal pedigree that included work for both Democrat and Republican administrations.
"He’s supremely qualified for this position," said Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee who normally leads opposition to Obama’s judicial nominees.
Progressive legal organizations applauded the confirmation as filling a long overdue vacancy on one of the country’s most important courts, especially for some of the policy issues Obama might try to tackle in his second term. The ease of Srinivasan’s confirmation led some to speculate that he could be the next pick for a U.S. Supreme Court vacancy.
Still, it was unclear whether Obama would fare as well with any subsequent picks for the 11-member court, which still has three open spots. The White House has no other pending nominations for the D.C. Circuit, although a statement from Obama on Thursday hinted that they may come soon.
"Sri is a trailblazer who personifies the best of America," Obama said. "While I applaud the Senate’s action, it’s important to remember that this confirmation is the first one to this important court in seven years. The three remaining vacancies must be filled, as well as other vacancies across the country."
Senate Republicans including Grassley and Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) are pressing legislation that would strip those judgeships from the D.C. Circuit and redistribute two of them to other circuit, indicating they would strongly oppose to any more Obama nominees for the D.C. Circuit. Republicans blocked Obama’s first nominee, Caitlin Halligan, who withdrew from consideration last month.
Senate Democrats, however, have signaled that the court is becoming a higher priority for them. Obama got personally involved in the White House push to get Srinivasan onto the D.C. Circuit, raising the nomination during recent closed-door meetings with both Republican and Democrat senators, a White House official said.
And on the floor this week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) made an aggressive move to force a vote on Srinivasan’s nomination. Republicans balked initially, saying the vote should take place in June. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell relented and allowed a vote on Thursday after Reid hinted at filibuster reform. Those reforms would be aimed at stripping away the ability of Republicans to block votes on judicial nominees and perhaps legislation.
Reid argued that the lack of Obama appointments has left the court unbalanced. He cited the D.C. Circuit’s ruling that Obama overstepped his authority using recess appointments to place three members on the National Labor Relations Board in January 2012.
"We have a majority in that court that is wreaking havoc with the country," Reid said. "For the first time in 230 years, they rule the president cannot make a recess appointment. So, yes, there is a crisis, and we need to do something about it. One way to resolve part of it is to get this good man on the court now."
McConnell replied that Reid’s remarks that made it clear that "the whole purpose is to stack the court. So the real issue, I guess, is he disagrees with the rulings on the D.C. Circuit."
Both parties agreed about Srinivasan’s qualifications. He has argued 24 cases before the Supreme Court, has worked in the solicitor general’s office under both Republican and Democrat administrations, and clerked for two Reagan-appointed federal appellate judges, including former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
A native of India, Srinivasan grew up in what he described as the "basketball-crazy" town of Lawrence, Kan. His parents worked at the University of Kansas, and he belonged to one of two Indian families in town. Srinivasan was an appellate partner at O’Melveny from 2007 to 2011, when he joined the solicitor general’s office. Srinivasan served as chairman of O’Melveny & Myers’s Supreme Court and appellate litigation practice.
Contact Todd Ruger at firstname.lastname@example.org.