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US judge Srinivasan a step closer to creating history

By Aziz Haniffa
April 11, 2013 13:08 IST
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US Principal Deputy Solicitor General Srikanth ‘Sri’ Srinivasan on Wednesday moved a step closer to creating history, reports Aziz Haniffa.


Srikanth ‘Sri’ Srinivasan, 45, currently the principal deputy solicitor general -- who is already being talked of as a potential supreme court nominee the next time a vacancy arises in the United States’ highest court -- Wednesday moved one step closer to creating history by becoming the first South Asian American circuit court judge in the history of the Indian American immigrant experience.

Some intense lobbying by the White House, Indian American activists -- particularly the second-generation -- and several professional organisations, including the North American South Asian Bar Association, apparently led to the easing of the stranglehold by Republican members of the US Senate Judiciary Committee, on the nomination of a brilliant Indian American legal mind to have his day in court and appear before the committee as part of his confirmation process.

And even though some of the Republican members of the committee subjected him to tough grilling, they nonetheless had high praise for his credentials and experience, and Congressional sources predicted that he’s likely to be confirmed by the committee and then by the full Senate before the month is out. 

The Chandigarh-born, Lawrence, Kansas-raised Srinivasan, was nominated by Obama on June 11, 2012, nearly 10 months after he was appointed principal deputy solicitor general by the president, replacing yet another trailblazing Indian American, Neal Kumar Katyal.

But more than six months after he was nominated by Obama, on January 2, Srinivasan’s nomination was returned to the president, due to the sine die adjournment of the Senate. On January 3, Obama re-nominated him for the same office.

On Wednesday, two US Senators from Virginia -- Democrats Mark Warner and Tim Kaine -- where Srinivasan’s now resides appeared before the committee to strongly endorse his nomination, and five US Congressmen, including Indian American lawmaker Dr Ami Bera, were on hand in the committee room during the hearing in a show of support.

Besides Bera, the other US Representatives present -- all Democrats -- were Mike Honda, Judy Chu, also from California, Grace Meng of New York and Tulsi Gabbard, of Hawaii and the only Hindu American member of the US House.

Warner said, “It’s an honour for me to introduce my fellow Virginian and President Obama’s nominee to the US Court of Appeals to the DC Court,” and argued that “Sri is exceptionally well qualified to carry out his duties and responsibilities as a judge of the US Court of Appeals -- one of the most important courts of our land.”

“He has an exceptional background, exceptional bipartisan support…from both Democrats and Republicans,” he said.

Warner, co-chair of the India Caucus in the US Senate, pointed out that Srinivasan besides clerking for Judge Harvie J Wilkinson in the Richmond, Virginia-based US Court of Appeals -- which kicked off his legal careeer -- had also clerked for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, “who is quoted as saying she believes he is a splendid choice for the Appellate Court position.”

He said, “If this committee moves forward on Sri’s nomination -- and we, as I will -- expected to support him on the (Senate) floor, Sri will be the first South Asian American ever to be nominated to the United States Court of Appeals.”

Warner predicted that, if confirmed, Srinivasan would bring “both an immigrant and unique perspective to the bench and will be a great asset to our legal system and judicial system in America.”

Kaine noted that Srinivasan had trained “under two very superb appellate judges,” and argued that “that beginning to a professional career for a lawyer is incredibly formative,” and said his clerking with Wilkinson was invaluable because this former judge of the fourth circuit “was a judge’s judge. He set the standard for output and work but also for civility… and that’s a trait Sri learned and that he has.”

“And then he clerked obviously on the Supreme Court with a wonderful jurist Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and both Judge Wilkinson and Justice O’Connor are strongly in support of Sri’s nomination.”

Kaine said, “He has the complete support of all he’s worked with in any of these capacities -- government service, teaching, his work in the clerkships, worked in the solicitor general’s office, and that speaks highly because lawyers are opinionated people and usually two lawyers will have three opinions.”

“But all the lawyers and others he worked with are of an uniform opinion about his credentials -- that says something very positive.”

Kaine, who like Warner, is an erstwhile Governor of Virginia, said, “Ultimately, to be a judge, the important thing is character -- there is intellectual training and there’s work ethic, but the challenges that judges faces -- having to make decisions that literally are life and death in many instances…you will see that he brings out that humility, a sense of competence that is well worn by his experience, but a sense of humility that would equip him for the awesome task of being a Title 3 judge with life tenure.”

He predicted that “there would be no doubt that Sri Srinivasan would maintain these character traits that have brought him to this point if he’s confirmed.”

GOP members of the committee like Senators Orrin Hatch of Utah and Charles Grassley of Iowa, though sometimes extremely tough in their questioning, nonetheless praised him for his impressive resume and innumerable appearances before the Supreme Court and hinted that they would vote to confirm him.

Senator Christopher Coons, New Jersey Democrat, who chaired the hearing, said, he was “entering into the record letters of recommendations from 12 former Solicitors General and Principal Deputy Solicitors General (including Katyal).

Earlier, Bera, who had met with Srinivasan before the hearings, said, “Sri Srinivasan would be an outstanding court of appeals judge. He is widely regarded as one of the best legal minds in the country. His integrity, wealth of experience, and education make him extremely well equipped to serve as a judge on the DC Circuit, one of our country’s most important courts.”

“His appointment would make history and be a proud moment for the Indian American and broader Asian American communities, and his qualifications are indisputable. He should be speedily confirmed by the U.S. Senate,” he added.

Before being appointed Principal Deputy Solicitor General, Srinivasan has been a partner in O’Melveny and Myers LLP in Washington, DC, chairing the firm’s appellate and Supreme Court practice. At O’Melveny and Myers, Srinivasan argued multiple cases before the US Supreme Court spanning multiple topics including criminal law and procedure, immigration law, banking law, education law, administrative law and federal contracting law.

From 2002 to 2007, Srinivasan served as assistant to the US Solicitor General and earlier from 1998 to 2002 did his first stint at O’Melveny and Myers. Prior to that, he served as a US Supreme Court law clerk for the Justice O’Connor and for the Judge Wilkinson.

Srinivasan was also a lecturer at HarvardLawSchool, where he co-teaches a course on supreme court and appellate advocacy and is a published author and has received many awards and recognitions including being named The National Law Journal’s 50 Most Influential Minority Lawyers in America in 2008.

He is an alumnus of StanfordUniversity from where he received his bachelor’s degree and then his JD from StanfordLawSchool, and an MBA from the StanfordBusinessSchool.

As Srinivasan awaits the confirmation on his nomination, some legal analysts were floating his name as a potential frontrunner for the next Supreme Court opening since the federal appeals court in DC is considered one of the nation's most powerful, and boasts many Supreme Court justices as alumni, including John Roberts, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia.

The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin said Srinivasan's Senate hearing will serve as a "dress rehearsal’ for a future Supreme Court confirmation battle.

Image: Srikanth ‘Sri’ Srinivasan (left) is greeted by Ami Bera in Washington, DC on Wednesday

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC