The Senate on Thursday unanimously approved Srikanth Srinivasan as the most senior US judge of South Asian descent, amid speculation that he may one day be tapped for the Supreme Court.
Srinivasan, who was born in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh and raised in Kansas, will serve on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, considered a stepping stone for justices to the top court.
Srinivasan is the principal deputy solicitor general, meaning he defends US President Barack Obama’s policies before the Supreme Court, but he enjoyed support from both parties and earlier worked under president George W. Bush.
He is the first justice confirmed to the Washington court since 2006, a year after Chief Justice John Roberts’ elevation created a vacancy. Republican senators blocked a vote on Obama’s earlier nominee, Caitlin Halligan.
Srinivasan’s confirmation also faced danger due to a feud related to the use of the filibuster, which allows senators to block a vote without the support of 60 votes — not a simple majority — in the 100-member body.
Obama in a statement praised Srinivasan, known widely as “Sri,” as “a trailblazer who personifies the best of America.”
“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. The three remaining vacancies must be filled, as well as other vacancies across the country,” Obama said.
Asian American lawmakers and advocacy groups hailed his confirmation as historic.
“Sri will offer a unique perspective and added diversity that is long overdue in our justice system,” said Representative Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat from Hawaii who is the first Hindu to serve in the US Congress.
Asian Americans mostly lean toward the Democratic Party, but experts say that Srinivasan’s views are hard to pin down ideologically — a factor that apparently worked in his favor for his nomination.
Srinivasan, 46, in March led the Obama administration’s argument to the Supreme Court that it should strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, which bans federal recognition of same-sex marriages.
But while in the private sector, Srinivasan defended former Enron president Jeffrey Skilling who is in prison on charges related to the oil company’s financial collapse.