WASHINGTON — Deputy Solicitor General Sri Srinivasan, a rising star in legal circles, won an easy and unanimous Senate confirmation Thursday to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, giving President Barack Obama his first appointee to a conservative-leaning court that decides major regulatory disputes.
Srinivasan, 46, who was born in India and grew up in Lawrence, Kan., was praised as being exceptionally smart, highly qualified and even-tempered. Unlike with other Obama nominees, Republicans said they had no hesitance in approving Srinivasan. And some Democrats raised the prospect that he could be a future nominee to the Supreme Court.
He won confirmation on a 97-0 vote.
“We may be seeing him coming before the Senate again soon,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.
Since graduating from Stanford Law School in 1995, Srinivasan has clerked at the Supreme Court for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, worked as a government attorney in both the Bush and Obama administrations, and practiced law at O’Melveny & Myers in Washington.
In his best-known case, Srinivasan argued on behalf of former Enron chief Jeffrey Skilling in the appeal of his criminal conviction for fraud. By a 9-0 vote, the court agreed Skilling was wrongly convicted for denying the company his “honest services,” but it upheld the other charges against him.
Two years ago, Srinivasan was appointed deputy solicitor general, working in the Justice Department office that represents the administration in the Supreme Court.
Obama was unable to put a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court during his first term. His initial nominee, New York attorney Caitlin Halligan, was blocked by Republicans who cited her work on a state suit against gun manufacturers. Obama then turned to Srinivasan, and his nomination moved quickly through the Senate.
He will join a court that now has seven full-time judges, four of whom were appointed by Republicans and three by Democrats. But the court also has four senior judges who were named by President Reagan in the 1980s, and they continue to participate in many cases.
By law, the D.C. Circuit is authorized to have 11 full-time judges, and Democrats were insistent on breaking the logjam that has kept the seats vacant.
Nationwide, 82 judicial seats are vacant, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts; Obama has 24 pending nominees.
Michael A. Memoli of the Tribune Washington Bureau contributed to this report.