Sri Srinivasan’s uncertain future

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The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals
Associated Press

If you followed last week’s oral arguments at the Supreme Court on marriage equality and the Defense of Marriage Act, you may have noticed the name Sri Srinivasan, who urged the justices to reject DOMA. He’s currently the Obama administration’s principal deputy solicitor general, but he’s also President Obama’s nominee to serve on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

And quite soon, that’s going to matter quite a bit.

We talked last week about Caitlin Halligan, whose nomination to the D.C. Circuit was blocked by the Senate Republican minority, most of which is made up of senators who swore during the Bush/Cheney era that they’d never block a judicial nominee. This is the second most important court in the nation, but it now has four vacancies – about a third of the bench – and the Senate GOP refuses to confirm any of Obama’s nominees to this top federal bench.

Which brings us to Srinivasan, who has some notable backers, but who may get filibustered anyway.

His nomination has gone untouched since June 2012, but next Wednesday the Senate will be holding a confirmation hearing. Monday a bipartisan group of former solicitors general sent a letter to Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) urging his confirmation. The list includes former Bush administration solicitors general Paul Clement and Theodore Olson, as well as former George H.W. Bush Solicitor General Kenneth Starr, who as special counsel investigated the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

“Sri is one of the best lawyers in the country,” the letter reads. “He is extremely well prepared to take on the intellectual rigors of serving as a judge on the DC Circuit.”

Adam Serwer added that Srinivasan “clerked for a Reagan-appointed Supreme Court justice; he worked for Republican and Democratic administrations, and he’s endorsed by the guy who helped the GOP almost bring down Bill Clinton. Yet thanks to GOP obstruction – and the Democrats’ refusal to reform the filibuster – he still might not get confirmed.”

In this case, however, the problem goes deeper than just knee-jerk obstructionism.

Obama’s judicial nominees are routinely blocked by the Senate Republican minority – there are, tragically, more vacancies on the federal bench now than when the president took office – but it’s the D.C. Circuit that’s of particular interest. Sahil Kapur explained:

…Senate Republicans have indicated a desire to maintain the court’s notoriously high vacancy rate – at least as long as Obama’s president.

Got that? The president has named exactly zero jurists to this bench so far, and the Republican plan is to simply keep it this way – through January 2017. If that means blocking a qualified nominee who’s even been endorsed by Ken Starr, so be it.

And why go to such lengths? The conventional wisdom is that the D.C. Circuit is often a launching pad for Supreme Court justices, so the GOP plan may have something to do with this angle, but I think the more likely explanation is something we discussed briefly last week: the D.C. Circuit hears cases related to federal regulations, and Haley Edwards explained very well that its conservative judges have already begun chipping away at the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory-reform law.

Whatever the motivation behind the obstructionism, Srinivasan’s nomination represents a test – of the nominating process, of the Senate’s ability to function, of how far Republicans are willing to go in abusing the rules, and of how much Democrats are willing to take before remedying this unprecedented fiasco.

In this sense, as Jonathan Bernstein writes, Srinivasan’s nomination has become “the moment of truth.” Bernstein added, “No single nomination can be the ultimate test, but for Democratic senators, this one will be – and probably should be – pretty big. If Republicans are out to nullify the 2012 elections (both presidential and in the Senate) with regard to the D.C. Circuit Court, Democrats will have to strongly consider fighting back with Senate reform.”

Sri Srinivasan, Judicial Nominees, Filibuster, Judiciary and Filibusters

Sri Srinivasan's uncertain future

Updated