Senate Republicans are holding up the nomination of Sri Srinivasan for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, saying they want to know more about his role in the abrupt settlement of a Fair Housing Act case a year ago.
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) today said Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have delayed a hearing for Srinivasan, currently the principal deputy U.S. solicitor general, while they seek more information about an agreement reached between the Department of Justice and the City of St. Paul, Minn.
The White House nominated Srinivasan for a spot on the 11-member bench in June. He still has not had a committee hearing, while the D.C. Circuit will soon have four vacancies. President Barack Obama completed his first term without having a nominee to that court confirmed.
In the controversial case, city officials in St. Paul, the appellant, came under heavy pressure from civil rights groups and others to withdraw the case, according to local press reports. St. Paul was poised to win the case, but civil rights groups feared that if it went forward, the Supreme Court could find disparate-impact claims unconstitutional and weaken enforcement of the act, which bars discrimination in housing.
St. Paul took the case to the high court after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit ruled that disparate-impact claims could be made against the city. The Obama administration joined the case in support of neither party to state that disparate claims were valid, but that the 8th Circuit misapplied the relevant standard.
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member of the judiciary committee, has since written several letters to the DOJ requesting more information and documents about how the agency and the city came to the sudden agreement, including a "quid pro quo arrangement that potentially cost taxpayers $180 million."
A letter from Grassley and other congressional Republicans to Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. alleges that in exchange for the city dropping its case, the Justice Department declined to intervene in unrelated False Claims Act cases that could have recovered that money.
A spokeswoman for Grassley said Srinivasan's name came up during the investigation into the arrangement, but Grassley has never implied that Srinivasan did anything inappropriate or improper. Grassley said he needs to see documents that the DOJ so far has not provided.
"With a full accounting of the documents, Senator Grassley, and members of the committee, can independently evaluate the role Mr. Srinivasan may have played in the quid pro quo and make an informed decision on his nomination," the spokeswoman said in an email statement.
Grassley announced in November that questions about the same agreement would hold up the confirmation of Tony West, who was nominated to be the associate attorney general, unless he received documents from the DOJ.
Leahy, the chairman of the judiciary committee, says he will include Srinivasan's nomination at the next nomination hearing.
"While I am unaware of any evidence to suggest that Mr. Srinivasan acted improperly, I have accommodated the Republicans' request for more time and more information," Leahy stated. "I intend to include Srinivasan at our next confirmation hearing. If some members have questions or concerns, they can raise them with the nominee directly."
Leahy also expressed frustration at the delay for Srinivasan. He said that Republicans would not allow a committee hearing for Srinivasan during the lame duck session after President Barack Obama won a second term. Instead, they agreed to proceed on his nomination at the first hearing of the new session.
Srinivasan and the Justice Department did not immediately return requests for comment. Srinivasan, formerly the chair of O’Melveny & Myers’ appellate and Supreme Court practice, was appointed as principal deputy solicitor general in August 2011.