Updated 3:51 p.m.
The Senate Judiciary Committee gave unanimous approval to Sri Srinivasan to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, clearing the way for him to be the first new judge on the panel since 2006.
Srinivasan’s nomination now heads to the Senate for a full vote. Srinivasan, if he’s confirmed, would fill one of four vacancies on the D.C. Circuit. Despite the 18-0 vote of the committee, Republicans have signaled they’re not interested in adding any more judges to the appeals court.
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) introduced legislation in April that would eliminate three spots on the D.C. Circuit. Other Republicans, including Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), have signed onto the legislation. The D.C. Circuit would lose three judge positions under the plan.
In his prepared opening statement during Thursday's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Grassley called upon Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) to hold hearings to examine the caseload of the D.C. Circuit.
"I would hope that effort would be underway before we move on any further D.C. Circuit nominations, beyond that of the current nominee," Grassley said.
In a statement, Leahy did not signal any support for Grassley's request to examine the caseload of the D.C. Circuit and the necessity of additional seats.
"I am glad we are moving forward with this fine nominee in a bipartisan way," Leahy said in a written statement. "But the D.C. Circuit has three additional vacancies, and I look forward to filling those as well."
Earlier this year, Republicans rejected the nomination of Caitlin Halligan to fill a vacancy on the D.C. Circuit. President Barack Obama has yet to successfully place a judge on the court, often considered the second most important court in the country below the Supreme Court.
White House press secretary Jay Carney, in a written statement, tried to dispel the Republican notion that the open seats should be eliminated.
"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," Carney said. "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."
Judith Schaeffer, vice president of the Constitutional Accountability Center, applauded the news of Srinivasan's unanimous confirmation but said that despite the recent break in partisan bickering, she did not expect it to last.
"Given a proposal by Senator 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."
Srinivasan is the principal deputy solicitor general at the Justice Department. He’s a former O’Melveny & Myers partner, where he focused on appellate and Supreme Court litigation.
In other action, the committee approved with a voice vote the nomination of Raymond Chen to serve as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. If confirmed, Chen, the deputy general counsel for intellectual property law and solicitor for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office since 2008, would be the first Asian American to serve on the Federal Circuit in more than 25 years.
Todd Ruger contributed to this report. Photo by The National Law Journal's Diego M. Radzinschi.