Senate Republicans Show Scant Opposition to Court Nominee

A recent White House push to build Republican support for judicial nominees showed signs of headway yesterday, as senators signaled little opposition to a candidate for a seat on a powerful appellate court in Washington.

The nomination of Sri Srinivasan to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit went before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday. The appellate panel is considered the nation’s second most influential court because its jurisdiction over federal rulemaking means it often hears major environmental, labor and national-security cases.

Srinivasan is a deputy solicitor general at the Justice Department, and the White House has tried to bolster his nomination by releasing a letter of support from former officials, including six Republicans. They include Kenneth Starr, who was solicitor general under President George H.W. Bush and investigated President Bill Clinton in the 1990s, and Ted Olson, solicitor general under President George W. Bush.

“I intend to support you based on what we’re talking about here,” Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, said at yesterday’s hearing. “You’re a very impressive person as far as I’m concerned. I don’t believe judges should be filibustered.”

The committee must vote on the nomination before it can go to the full Senate for consideration.

Filibustered Out

Last month, President Barack Obama withdrew his nomination of former New York state solicitor general Caitlin Halligan for a seat on the D.C. appellate bench after Republicans used a procedural maneuver known as a filibuster to block her nomination. Halligan, whom Obama nominated three times -- in 2011, 2012 and 2013 -- and who asked to have her name withdrawn, was to fill one of four vacancies among 11 seats on the court.

No nominee to the panel has been confirmed since 2006. Judges on its bench regularly move up to the U.S. Supreme Court, where four of the nine current members, including Chief Justice John Roberts, previously served on the lower court. Democrats blame politics for the impasse.

“I think the hard right wants to use the D.C. Circuit to undo all kinds of governmental decisions,” Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, said at the Srinivasan hearing. “If they don’t approve you, let you come to vote, it’ll mean they are just totally dedicated to keeping the Circuit empty.”

Confirmation of appellate and district-court nominees took an average of 227 days in Obama’s first term, compared with 176 days in George W. Bush’s first four years and 98 days during Clinton’s first term, according to an analysis by Russell Wheeler, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit research organization in Washington.

Rising Vacancies

The number of appeals-court vacancies rose to 17 during Obama’s first term from 14 when he took office in January 2009, according to Wheeler’s analysis. During Bush’s initial four years, appellate vacancies declined to 18 on his second inauguration from 27 when he entered the White House.

“When a president submits a qualified candidate, of good character and sound legal mind, absent exceptional circumstances, that candidate is entitled to a vote,” Senator Christopher Coons, a Delaware Democrat and chairman of the Bankruptcy and the Courts subcommittee, said yesterday.

“Every time the Senate holds up a nominee for political reasons, we lose not only the contributions of that candidate, but we also make it harder to find talented individuals who are willing to serve,” Coons said.

Jay Carney, a White House spokesman, cited during a news briefing this month “the uniqueness” and “arbitrariness” of the delays that Obama’s judicial nominees have faced.

‘Other Side’

Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said the White House bears some responsibility for not submitting enough nominees.

“We always get from the other side of the aisle that we’re not moving fast enough,” Grassley said, adding that the chamber has confirmed 10 judges this year. “The Senate has been doing its job and doing it quickly.”

Srinivasan, who was born in India, would become the first federal appellate judge of South Asian descent if confirmed. He was nominated in June.

“I don’t have an overarching, grand unifying judicial philosophy,” Srinivasan said in response to questions from Republican senators. “I would have an impartial adherence to the rule of law,” if confirmed, he said.

“It’s a duty of a judge to abide by precedent,” he said, adding that is something that isn’t negotiable.

Twelve of the committee’s 18 members were present at the hearing, including five of the panel’s eight Republicans. Most senators asked Srinivasan about his beliefs and opinions and making the transition from lawyer to judge.

“My personal views have not played a role in the arguments I’ve made on behalf of clients,” Srinivasan said. “My personal views certainly wouldn’t play a role” as a judge, he said.

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