New Delhi: After the unexpected death of Antonin Scalia during a hunting vacation in Texas on Saturday, there’s a considerable amount of interest and debate over his successor in the United States Supreme Court. Nominated by former US President Ronald Reagan, Scalia held the position of Associate Supreme Court Justice from 1986 till his death in 2016.
Scalia, the first Italian-American justice, was known for, as the New Yorker staff writer Jeffrey Toobin wrote, “the concept of ‘originalism’—that the Constitution should be interpreted as its 18th century framers understood it."
Toobin continued, “In practical terms, originalism gives constitutional sanction to conservative politics. It amounts to no protection for abortion rights, no recognition of/for gay rights, and no sanction for affirmative action or protective legislation to benefit racial minorities and women."
Scalia, in many ways, was one of the most conservative US Supreme Court judges. His death leaves the ideological balance of the Supreme Court at four (liberal) and four (conservative), which makes President Barack Obama’s appointment, which he confirmed will be in “due time" absolutely key to the ideological balance of the Supreme Court.
Among those in the fray—and according to some, even front-runner—is 46-year old Padmanabhan Srikanth Srinivasan (or Sri Srinivasan). For Srinivasan to be appointed, his nomination will have to stand the test in the Senate, before the all-important confirmation by President Obama. However, immediately after Scalia’s death, a war of words began between the Republicans and the Democrats. The Republicans currently enjoy a majority in the Senate with 54% voting share, while the Democrats have only 46% voting share.
This makes Srinivasan’s potential nomination even more fascinating. In a report in Mother Jones magazine Doug Kendall, president of the liberal Constitutional Accountability Center, calls Srinivasan “unquestionably brilliant" but acknowledges that Srinivasan’s record “is not progressive-forward; it is as non-ideological as you can find."
Should Srinivasan’s nomination be eventually confirmed, he will become the first Supreme Court justice of Indian descent.
So, who exactly is Sri Srinivasan?
Srinivasan was born into a family of teachers in Chandigarh in 1967, where his father was a faculty at the Panjab University. His roots go back to Tamil Nadu, specifically a village named Mela Thiruvenkatanathapuram, near Tirunelveli, where his father grew up. Soon after his birth, his family emigrated to the US, first in Berkeley, California, before settling down in Lawrence, Kansas, where Srinivasan grew up. Both his parents worked at the University of Kansas. While his father was a professor of mathematics at the university, his mother Saroja taught first at the Kansas City Art Institute, before taking up a position in the computer science department of the University of Kansas.
Soon after high school, Srinivasan joined Stanford University, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1989. He followed it up with a dual degree, a JD/MBA from Stanford Law School and Stanford Graduate School of Business in 1995.
Srinivasan, the New Yorker wrote in 2014, “clerked for a pair of Republican judges, J. Harvie Wilkinson III (1995-1996) and Sandra Day O’Connor (1997-1998)."
Post his clerkships, Srinivasan joined O’Melveny and Myers LLP in Washington D.C., where he worked as an associate between 1998 and 2002. In 2002, Srinivasan returned to the Solicitor General’s Office, where he worked as an “Assistant to the Solicitor General, representing the United States in litigation before the Supreme Court," the White House in a 2012 release stated. “For his work, he received the Attorney General’s Award for Excellence in Furthering US National Security in 2003 and the Office of the Secretary of Defense Award for Excellence in 2005."
In 2007, Srinivasan rejoined the law firm he previously worked with—O’Melveny & Myers LLP, as a partner and four years later, he was named the “Chair of the firm’s Appellate Practice Group." It was during his stint at O’Melveny & Myers, that Srinivasan would represent Enron in 2010, unsuccessfully arguing before “the Supreme Court to grant a new trial for Enron president Jeffrey Skilling, who was convicted with one of the most significant financial frauds scandals in recent history," according to the 2013 profile by Mother Jones cited earlier.
Besides Enron, Srinivasan, the magazine adds, also “successfully represented a newspaper publisher that fired its employees for using their union to attempt to pressure the paper to reverse what the employees saw as biased interference in their reporting."
In August 2011, Srinivasan was appointed as Principal Deputy Solicitor General of the United States, a post where he replaced fellow Indian-American Neal Katyal. Less than a year later, in June 2012, Obama nominated Srinivasan to the District of Columbia (DC) Circuit (Court of Appeals). While his nomination was returned to the President due to “the sine die adjournment of the Senate", Srinivasan was renominated to the same office the very next day.
On 24 May 2013, Srinivasan was confirmed on a 97-0 Senate vote. Those who voted in his favour included candidates on the 2016 Republican presidential elections field, including Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, besides Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. In September that year, Srinivasan was sworn in as a DC Circuit judge, after he took his oath of office on the Bhagawat Gita, “with his mother Saroja Srinivasan holding the holy book for him," as The Hindu reported.
Besides his legal career, Srinivasan has also served “as a lecturer at Harvard Law School, where he taught a class on appellate advocacy." During his stint at Stanford Law School, he was elected to “Order of the Coif and served as an editor of the Stanford Law Review." He is also known to be a passionate follower of basketball, going back to his days in Kansas, where he played as a guard for his alma mater, Lawrence High School.