WASHINGTON -- Sri Srinivasan, the principal deputy solicitor general of the United States, received a boost in his nomination to the prestigious U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Wednesday, when Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) indicated that he would vote for him.
There are currently four vacancies on the 11-member court, which is often considered the second most powerful in the country and a stepping stone to the U.S. Supreme Court. The last time the Senate confirmed someone to the D.C. Circuit was in 2006. On March 22, Obama withdrew the nomination of Caitlin Halligan to serve on the court. Senate Republicans had blocked the former New York solicitor general for more than two years.
Srinivasan faced the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) pressed Srinivasan on whether he would be able to step away from his current role as an advocate and be impartial as a judge. He repeatedly said he was "impressed" with Srinivasan and, apparently convinced by the nominee's answers, eventually indicated that he intends to support him.
"Congratulations for this nomination," Hatch said at the end of his questioning. "I think you're going to make a great Circuit Court of Appeals judge, and I intend to support you based upon what we're talking about here. There are differences between being an advocate and a judge, and I think you understand."
There is not yet a date scheduled for a vote on Srinivasan, and one likely won't happen for a couple of weeks at the earliest.
In recent days, the Obama administration and its allies have been stepping up their calls for Senate Republicans to stop obstructing judicial nominees. President Barack Obama's nominees wait an average of 116 days on the Senate floor for a vote, which is three times longer than the average wait for President George W. Bush's nominees.
The Judiciary Committee is often not the problem; many times, the confirmation process stalls even after the committee members approve a nominee.
The criticism has put Republicans on the defensive, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday arguing that his colleagues have treated Obama's nominees "very fairly."
The D.C. Circuit Court currently has four Republican appointees and three Democrats, making clear why Obama may be interested in filling up four empty seats with his own picks. The court recently gained extra attention after it ruled that Obama's three recess appointments to the five-member National Labor Relations Board violated the Constitution.
At Wednesday's hearing, ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said he was introducing legislation that would eliminate three seats on the D.C. Circuit Court but add a seat to the 2nd and the 11th Circuits, which Grassley argued have heavier caseloads. The D.C. Circuit, however, tends to take on more major national security and regulatory cases that require more time to process, as Ian Millhiser at ThinkProgress points out.
Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) also argued, in response, that Republicans had no problem confirming the full slate of judges to the D.C. Circuit when President George W. Bush was in office, and conservatives had control of the court.
"I don't want to suggest that these numbers show any kind of a partisan difference, but [we] would appear to need the judges with less of caseload when there's a Republican president. The suggestion is we don't need the judges when there's a Democratic president," Leahy said. "I would also note if we're concerned about vacancies, we could easily confirm all these non-controversial judges that are on the floor."