Lawmakers, groups applaud support for Srinivasan, but want other D.C. Circuit vacancies filled

By Jessica M. Karmasek | May 17, 2013

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) -- Federal lawmakers, special interest groups and the Obama administration, pleased with the unanimous support of Sri Srinivasan to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit by a Senate committee Thursday, are already turning their attention to the federal appeals court's other vacancies.

On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved Srinivasan's nomination, along with two other nominees.

Srinivasan's nomination to the D.C. Circuit was unanimously approved on a bipartisan 18-0 vote.

President Barack Obama nominated Srinivasan, who currently serves as the principle deputy solicitor general, for the first time last year and re-nominated him in January.

His nomination now will be referred to the full Senate. If confirmed, he would fill one of the four vacancies on the D.C. Circuit.

The court is considered by some to be the second most important court in the country, after the U.S. Supreme Court.

It often is responsible for resolving critically important cases involving the separation of powers, the role of government, the rights of federal officials, and the decisions of a vast array of administrative agencies.

In fact, it was the D.C. Circuit that ruled Obama's "intrasession appointment" of three new members to the National Labor Relations Board was an unconstitutional abuse of power because he could not make those appointments without Senate confirmation because the Senate was not in recess.

However, the court currently has more vacancies than any other federal appeals court.

In March, Caitlin Halligan took her name out of consideration after Republicans blocked her nomination again and again for more than two years.

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. and chairman of the judiciary committee, welcomed the committee's unanimous support of Srinivasan and called for the full Senate to quickly confirm the nomination.

"I am glad we are moving forward with this fine nominee in a bipartisan way," Leahy said. "But the D.C. Circuit has three additional vacancies, and I look forward to filling those as well."

The Obama administration also expressed some urgency in filling the other vacancies on the court.

"We applaud the Senate Judiciary Committee's unanimous approval of Sri Srinivasan's nomination to be a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said.

"The D.C. Circuit is often considered the nation's second-highest court, but it has twice as many vacancies as any other court of appeals, and its workload has increased by over 20 percent since 2005.

"Srinivasan's confirmation will be an important first step to filling this court's four vacancies, and the full Senate should act without unnecessary delay."

The Constitutional Accountability Center -- a think tank, law firm and action center "dedicated to fulfilling the progressive promise of the Constitution's text and history" -- said it welcomed the committee's decision to move Srinivasan's nomination to the full Senate.

"He is overwhelmingly qualified and should be confirmed without delay," Vice President Judith E. Schaeffer said.

Still, the group said it can't help but wonder if Senate Republicans will keep the remaining three vacancies on the court unfilled.

"Yet while this morning's vote is a refreshing change from the hyper-partisanship that greeted President Obama's first nominee to the D.C. Circuit -- the supremely qualified Caitlin Halligan -- make no mistake: today is the exception, not the rule," Schaeffer said.

"Given a proposal by Sen. (Chuck) Grassley to eliminate three seats on the D.C. Circuit -- effectively a mass filibuster of President Obama's future nominees -- the comity exhibited by Senate Republicans this morning is not likely to last very long."

The People For the American Way, a liberal progressive advocacy group, also was hesitant in applauding Republicans for their support of Srinivasan.

"The Senate Judiciary Committee's bipartisan approval of Sri Srinivasan is an important step toward ending the extraordinary vacancy crisis on the nation's second most influential court," Executive Vice President Marge Baker said.

"The seat on the D.C. Circuit that Srinivasan would fill has been open for nearly five years and is one of an astonishing four vacancies on the 11-member court. Senate Republicans have prevented President Obama from filling even one of those vacancies in an effort to preserve the court's anti-worker and anti-consumer tilt. Republicans twice filibustered the nomination of the eminently qualified Caitlin Halligan and even delayed a committee hearing on Srinivasan for nearly 10 months."

She continued, "Senate Republicans cannot hide behind their friendly treatment of Srinivasan as they obstruct future nominees to the D.C. Circuit. Republicans are pressing the claim that there's no need to fill any more vacancies on this critically important court. This argument is false, hypocritical and clearly politically motivated."

The group said it fully expects Srinivasan to be promptly confirmed by the full Senate, and said it will continue to push for the nomination and swift confirmation of "strong jurists" to the remaining seats on the D.C. Circuit.

Also Thursday, the judiciary committee approved on a 10-8 vote the nomination of Jennifer Dorsey, a Nevada district court nominee who has also been pending since last year.

Raymond Chen, nominated to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, was approved on a voice vote.

Following the committee's action Thursday, 12 judicial nominees are now waiting full Senate consideration, including three who would fill emergency vacancies.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at

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