President Obama's first appointee to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit was easily and unanimously confirmed last week in a 97-0 vote. At age 46, Srinkath "Sri" Srinivasan is America's newest federal judge.
His recent confirmation is widely seen as a dress rehearsal for a Supreme Court nomination before the president's second term ends. The reasoning here is based on his extensive credentials, his relatively youthful age, and that he would be the first Asian-American member to be nominated. Most speculation imagines him as occupying a carefully considered, left-of-center moderate position. Yet the most important part of his appeal is the bipartisan flavor of his life and career.
Srinivasan, who was born in India and raised in Kansas, where his parents were college professors, earned a J.D. as well as an MBA at Stanford. He then went on to clerk for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and Fourth Circuit Court Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson, both moderate conservatives. Additionally, he spent several years working as a career lawyer in the George W. Bush administration. Mostly in his role as deputy solicitor general for the Obama administration (a post held by Chief Justice John Roberts in the George H. W. Bush term), he has argued approximately 20 cases before the Supreme Court.
The case for which he is known outside of his government representation before the Supreme Court is his representation of Jeffrey Skilling, a former executive at Enron. Srinivasan argued that Skilling was wrongfully charged with fraud in connection to the Enron scandal. The court agreed, 9-0, and Skilling was cleared of the fraud charge; however, he remains in prison for other crimes in relation to the Enron scandal.
The D.C. Circuit Court is often referred to as America's second-most important court. It has a reputation for being where future Justices can prove themselves, a sort of mock trial. This is in fact where many future SCOTUS nominees come from — four current Justices served there before being appointed. This is why confirmations for one of the 11 positions in the D.C. Circuit Court are so publicized and scrutinized.
As stated previously, this is President Obama's first successful nomination to the D.C. Court. In the past decade, the confirmation process for nominees from both presidents has been endlessly prolonged due to partisan bickering over who is and is not an acceptable choice. Compare Srinivasan's confirmation with the nomination process for Caitlin Halligan, an Obama nominee to the same court to which Srinivasan has been appointed. Her nomination was delayed for two years by Senate Republicans before she voluntarily withdrew.
In this Congress, bipartisan approval for anything seems rare: Sri Srinivasan appears to be a figure that both sides can agree is highly qualified and fair-minded. No senator voted against him; all 97 who voted did so in the affirmative. Only Senators Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Flake (R-Ariz.), and Boxer (D-Calif.) did not vote.
His rapid confirmation is an example of how quick and efficient judicial nominations can be, and is a useful juxtaposition with the woefully understaffed judiciary. In all, 82 judicial seats sit vacant at present, while President Obama has only 24 nominations pending.