Federal Courts and Nominations

Is this the next Supreme Court Justice? Indian-American litigator Sri Srinivasan is tipped as Obama’s choice to replace Scalia

By Jessica Chia

Within hours of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death on Saturday, Sri Srinivasan’s name began to circulate as a possible replacement.

Srinivasan, 48, has been named as a top choice since 2013 when he was sworn in to the D.C. Circuit, which is seen as a breeding ground for future nominees.

Given that Scalia’s death leaves the Supreme Court split with four Democratic and Republican justices each, his replacement will serve as a tie-breaker in upcoming cases on abortion, affirmative action, and immigration.

He was born in India as Padmanabhan Srikanth Srinivasan, grew up in Lawrence, Kansas, and went to Stanford, where he earned his undergraduate and law degrees, in addition to an MBA.

He previously served as a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and worked as Obama’s deputy solicitor general. 

The president has called him ‘a trailblazer who personifies the best of America’. 

If he is nominated and sworn in, Srinivasan, known as ‘Sri’, will break new ground as the country’s first Indian-American justice.

The litigator, who represented the country in the Windsor v. United States case, argued that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional given its limitations on same-sex couples.

He notably presented the case without notes, according to USA Today.

While Srinivasan has a relationship with President Obama and has defended left-leaning issues, he is seen as a moderate candidate for the position.

Mother Jones reported that the president of the liberal Constitutional Accountability Center Doug Kendall, called Srinivasan’s record ‘not progressive-forward; it is as non-ideological as you can find’.

Caroline Fredrickson, president of the progressive American Constitution Society, also said: ‘I don’t think anybody is going to suggest that he’s being put forth as the next Thurgood Marshall or Justice Brennan. He does not come out of that kind of background.’ 

Srinivasan famously defended Jeffrey Skilling before the Supreme Court in 2010. The former CEO of Enron was later found guilty of fraud.

Regardless of his personal politics, both Kendall and Fredrickson acknowledged that Srinivasan was more than qualified for the job.

Walter Dellinger, President Bill Clinton’s former acting solicitor general, said: ‘Sri is undoubtedly considered one of the best three or four Supreme Court advocates in the country’. 

Dellinger also shared that earlier in Srinivasan’s career, the litigator would take a single, blank sheet of paper to the podium to avoid looking overconfident. 

Other possibilities for Scalia’s spot on the Supreme Court include Paul Watford, 48, who is a judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

He was a law clerk to Alex Kozinski, the former chief judge of the Ninth Circuit, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court justice.

David Barron’s name has also been making the rounds, although some say he is a controversial choice due to his justification of Obama’s decision to launch drone strikes on Anwar al-Awlaki, an American Muslim who was living in Yemen. 

Jacqueline Nguyen was nominated by Obama in 2011 to serve on the ninth circuit, making her the first Asian-American female federal appellate judge.

Jane Kelly, a former public defender serving as a judge on the eighth circuit is another possible option. 

Obama commented on her nomination with Gregory Alan Phillips in 2013 by saying they had ‘proven themselves to be not only first-rate legal minds but faithful public servants.’ 

The current president is likely to make the nomination soon, despite vows from Republican politicians to block his choice and leave the decision to the next president.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said: ‘The American people should have a voice in the selection of the next Supreme Court justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.’

The longest nomination process took 125 days for Justice Louis Brandeis in 1916. 

Although Obama has just under a year left in office, the longest vacancy on the court lasted 835 days when John Tyler could not get the Senate to approve a replacement for Justice Henry Baldwin who died in 1844.

Nevada Senator and the minority leader Harry Reid tweeted on Saturday: ‘The President can and should send the Senate a nominee right away. The Senate has a responsibility to fill vacancies as soon as possible.

‘It would be unprecedented in recent history for SCOTUS to go year with vacancy. And shameful abdication of our constitutional responsibility.’

The Republicans may have difficulty opposing Srinivasan without accusations of obstructionism since they helped him enter the DC Court of Appeals.

Scalia died of a heart attack while he was staying at the Cibolo Creek Ranch in the Big Bend region south of Marfa. 

Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara told WFAA the 79-year-old’s cause of death would be listed under the technical term, myocardial infraction, and ruled out any rumors of foul play.

According to Guevara, he had seen his physician last week for a shoulder problem, and had an MRI done. 

The Supreme Court Justice spent the day quail hunting before arriving at the ranch on Friday to attend a private party with approximately 40 other people.

He wasn’t feeling well and went to bed early, CNN reported.

When he did not show up for breakfast in the morning, a person associated with the ranch went to check on him and found his body in his room.

At his family’s request, his body will be embalmed before it is flown back to the East Coast.

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