Sri Srinivasan has been serving as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit since May, but his formal investiture took place Thursday afternoon - a festive event that drew dozens of leaders of the D.C. legal and Supreme Court community, as well as the wife of India's prime minister.
Retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, for whom Srinivasan clerked in 1997-1998, did the honors, swearing him in as his mother Saroja held the Hindu holy book Baghavad Gita. O'Connor pronounced Srinivasan to be "fair, faultless and fabulous." Justice Elena Kagan was the only current justice on hand.
The mood in the ceremonial courtroom of the E. Barrett Prettyman Courthouse was cheerful and celebratory, not only because of Srinivasan's personal popularity but perhaps also because he was confirmed by a 97-0 Senate vote on May 23 - a rare bright spot of bipartisanship, though it took nearly a year to happen. "How did you do that?" asked Srinivasan's sister Srija during her remarks at the investiture.
The ceremony for Srinivasan, the first federal circuit judge from South Asia, was big news in his native India. Numerous Indian journalists and embassy officials were in attendance, as was Gursharan Kaur, the wife of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Srinivasan’s parents were longtime friends of India’s First Family. Srinivasan, 46, grew up in Lawrence, Kansas, and his beloved Jayhawks were mentioned frequently in remarks before the ceremony.
Sister Srinija spoke as did Srija, and when the judge himself thanked the crowd, he joked that many in the audience were probably wondering why his parents were obsessed with the syllable “Sri” when it came to naming their children. Srinivasan’s own children, twins Maya and Vikram, helped him put on his robe for the ceremony. He pulled out of his pockets two baby socks – good luck mementoes he said he kept with him for every oral argument he made before the high court.
Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, for whom Srinivasan also clerked, paid tribute to the newly minted judge, as did Walter Dellinger and Irv Gornstein, former colleagues at both the solicitor general’s office and at O’Melveny & Myers. Srinivasan did multiple tours at both places, and he described the D.C. Circuit as his “third home in the law.” White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler read the formal commission naming Srinivasan to the court.
Wilkinson recalled that when Justice O’Connor wanted to interview Srinivasan for a clerkship on a certain day, Srinivasan asked if it could be put off because of a “social engagement.” Soon, Wilkinson found himself “on the other end of the phone” with an upset O’Connor, who wondered if Srinivasan was sufficiently committed to his work. “He lives and breathes the law,” Wilkinson replied, and Srinivasan was ultimately hired. Wilkinson told the D.C. Circuit judges arrayed on the bench that “they could not have a better colleague,” describing Srinivasan as “lightning smart and super-dedicated.”
Dellinger, the former acting solicitor general, said in jest that he had applied to be a law clerk to Srinivasan and hoped that the fact that he had hired Srinivasan three times would overcome his age (72.) He said Srinivasan quickly replied that Dellinger was not too old, but “too result-oriented” to be his clerk. Dellinger allowed that there was “more than a kernel of truth” in what Srinivasan said, and it also indicated the kind of judge he will be.
Gornstein, who heads the Supreme Court Institute at Georgetown University Law Center, spoke of Srinivasan’s qualities as a friend and colleague, also describing him as “one of the very best oral advocates in the land.”
Chief Judge Merrick Garland welcomed Srinivasan to the court and said that so far, he had been a disappointment in only one respect: in spite of Srinivasan’s height and prowess as a basketball player, “we lost convincingly” in the court’s annual basketball game with Supreme Court personnel in which Srinivasan participated for the first time.
A large contingent from the solicitor general’s office and the Justice Department attended – including SG Donald Verrilli and Justice officials Tony West, Beth Brinkmann and Virginia Seitz. Leaders of the Supreme Court bar were too numerous to name but included former SGs Paul Clement and Gregory Garre.
Also in the audience were Patricia Millett of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer and Feld, Georgetown University Law Center professor Nina Pillard, and U.S. District Court Judge Robert Wilkins. All three, like Srinivasan, have been nominated to the D.C. Circuit, and may have wondered as they watched whether they will have as smooth a confirmation process as he did.
Contact Tony Mauro at firstname.lastname@example.org. National Law Journal photos by Diego M. Radzinschi. Above, retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor administers to the oath to Judge Sri Srinivasan, accompanied by his mother Saroja Srinivasan.