WASHINGTON — After five years of trying, President Barack Obama has placed his first nominee on a key appeals court in Washington.
The Senate voted unanimously on Thursday, 97-0, to confirm Sri Srinivasan to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The court is considered the most important in the country after the Supreme Court.
Srinivasan is currently the principal deputy in the Office of the Solicitor General. He has worked in both Democratic and Republican administrations and served as a law clerk to former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
In a statement, President Barack Obama praised the Senate's approval of Srinivasan, whom he called a "trailblazer who personifies the best of America." But like Senate Democrats, he also poked Republicans for what he said was the slow approval of his judicial nominations.
"While I applaud the Senate's action, it's important to remember that this confirmation is the first one to this important court in seven years," Obama said. "The three remaining vacancies must be filled as well as other vacancies across the country."
In recent years, the District of Columbia Circuit has been the subject of regular political skirmishes over appointments.
Democrats banded together to block President George W. Bush's nominee to the court, Miguel Estrada, who withdrew his nomination in 2003. Bush had four nominees seated to the court, the last one, Brett M. Kavanaugh, in 2006. Obama's first nominee to the court, Caitlin Halligan, withdrew her nomination after it was blocked by Republicans who said she was too liberal and didn't strictly interpret the Constitution.
There are now three vacancies on the court, including the seat vacated by John Roberts who left in September 2005 to become chief justice of the Supreme Court.
Ahead of the vote on Srinivasan, senators argued over whether Obama's judicial nominees were moving quickly enough and whether the District of Columbia Circuit needed to fill additional vacancies after Srinivasan is seated.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Republicans were moving too slowly overall and the GOP "had no concerns" with filling four vacancies on the court under Bush.
"The arguments now being made by Senate Republicans to eliminate three seats on the D.C. Circuit are not based in the reality of that court's caseload," he said. "Even if we do make these misleading comparisons to other circuits, the arguments also do not withstand scrutiny."
Republicans said they were acting responsibly.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, called Democratic complaints "nothing but a transparent attempt to create the appearance of obstruction." He said approval of judicial nominees under Obama compared favorably to their approval under Bush.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said he didn't think that the District of Columbia Circuit needed more nominees and could handle its workload.
"Both parties have argued that," Lee said, referencing some Democrats arguments under Bush.
When it came to Srinivasan himself, Democrats and Republicans universally praised his legal qualifications, in many cases using similar adjectives. Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa and Chris Coons, D-Del., both noted Srinivasan's temperament.
"I can say without question, he has the background the skills and perhaps most importantly the temperament to serve as a circuit court judge," Coons said.
Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., paid tribute to Srinivasan's Midwestern roots. He noted that Srinivasan grew up in Lawrence, Kan., once playing as a guard in a high-school lineup that included Kansas Jayhawk legend and NBA star Danny Manning.
"Sri is a fellow Kansan and one of our state's most accomplished legal minds," Moran said.
Srinivasan will join the bench of a court with influence that stems from its frequent hearing of cases involving federal laws and regulations. The court has also served as a supply line to the Supreme Court – four of the current high court's justices, including Roberts, served on the appeals court.