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‘Trailblazer’ Srinivasan Nominated to Federal Circuit Court Seat

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Sri Srinivasan, right, is shown with U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara at the 2012 North American South Asian Law Student Association convention.
  • United States

    Srikanth “Sri” Srinivasan, currently serving as principal deputy solicitor general in the Obama administration, was nominated June 11 by the president to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, widely considered to be the second-most important court in the nation.

    Srinivasan’s nomination requires Senate confirmation; if confirmed, the Stanford University alumnus will be the first Asian American to serve on the D.C. Circuit, and the first Indian American ever to serve as a federal circuit court judge. 

    The Chandigarh-born Srinivasan — who has served in the Solicitor General’s office since August 2011 — was considered for the same post in 2010, but, according to the National Review, his possible nomination was opposed by those concerned about clients he represented while in private practice.

    As an attorney at O’Melveny and Myers, Srinivasan represented ex-Enron president Jeffrey Skilling before the Supreme Court, attempting to overturn a conviction that would send the disgraced energy executive — accused of several counts of securities fraud and insider trading which contributed to the collapse of the Houston, Texas-based company — to prison for 24 years. 

    Srinivasan argued that Skilling could not have received a fair trial in Houston, where thousands of people lost their jobs after Enron collapsed. The Supreme Court supported his argument and found in Skilling’s favor, but a lower court upheld the earlier conviction. Skilling is currently serving out his sentence.

    “When is it okay to punish a lawyer for the clients he’s represented? When the clients are disfavored by the left,” opined National Review blogger Ed Whelan in 2010. “That, at least, would seem to be the lesson to be drawn from the apparent demise of Sri Srinivasan’s planned nomination to the D.C. Circuit,” noted Whelan.

    John Yang, co-chair of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association’s judiciary committee, told India-West there had been concerns about Srinivasan’s possible nomination in 2010 “based on a general opposition to his private practice work.” The Skilling case immediately came to mind, he added.

    But Yang does not believe Srinivasan’s confirmation will be affected this round. “Some of the concerns people raised in 2009 and 2010 were for his work on paper. But since then, people have gotten to know the breadth of what he’s done,” said Yang, adding that Srinivasan is well-respected for his pro-bono work.

    While in private practice, Srinivasan represented an organization challenging Arizona’s controversial legislation SB 1070 at the Supreme Court. The bill would require local and state officials to ask for documentation from anyone they suspected of being undocumented. The Supreme Court is expected to reach a decision later this summer.

    Yang also noted that Srinivasan represented a group challenging Indiana’s voter identification laws at the Supreme Court.

    “Here is an eminently qualified individual, and we hope that people will see the entirety of his work,” said Yang.

    Obama nominated Caitlin Halligan to the seat in 2010, but her confirmation was blocked. He nominated Halligan again with Srinivasan this week, saying they were both “dedicated public servants who will bring their tremendous expertise, intellect and integrity” to the post. “Mr. Srinivasan will be a trailblazer and, like Ms. Halligan, will serve the court with distinction and excellence,” said the president. 

    “He is a highly-respected appellate advocate who has spent a distinguished career litigating before the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals, both on behalf of the United States and in private practice,” said Obama, noting that one-quarter of this court’s seats currently stand vacant.

    Several Asian American organizations immediately sent out statements supporting Srinivasan’s nomination. Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said, “President Obama has already broken barriers by more than doubling the number of Asian Americans on the federal bench, including the only two Asian American judges currently serving at the appellate court level. Today, he added to this historic accomplishment by nominating U.S. Principal Deputy Solicitor General Sri Srinivasan to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit, one of the most important courts in the country.”

    “Mr. Srinivasan is exceptionally well qualified and a trailblazer as the first South Asian American to ever be nominated for a federal appellate court. I commend the president for his commitment to putting forth highly qualified and diverse judicial nominees, and I urge my Senate colleagues to move forward with Mr. Srinivasan’s confirmation process,” said Chu.

    “The South Asian community comprises over 2.8 million people in the United States, yet there are only two South Asian Americans who currently serve as Article III judges in the entire nation,” stated Jolsna John, president of the North American South Asian Bar Association. “We support the ongoing efforts of the Obama administration at increasing judicial diversity, and applaud President Obama for nominating such a well-qualified nominee,” she said.

    According to the White House, Srinivasan has argued 20 cases before the Supreme Court and written briefs for several others. The Lawrence, Kansas native did both his undergraduate and graduate work at Stanford, where he also earned an MBA, in addition to his law degree.

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