President Barack Obama on Wednesday picked an appeals court judge to the Supreme Court, ending weeks of speculation if he might go with Indian-American Sri Srinivasan.
At a brief event at the White House, Obama named Merrick Garland, chief judge of the District of Columbia circuit courts of appeal, where Srinivasan has been a judge since 2014.
Srinivasan would have made history as the first Indian-American, first Asian-American and first Hindu to be named to the country’s highest court. And there had been a fair chance of it.
Srinivasan has long been called Obama’s “SC nominee in waiting”, and shot to the top of the list of contenders for the vacancy created by the sudden passing of Antonin Scalia.
He was among the last two before Obama picked Garland, which came as both a disappointment to the Indian-American community that felt at the verge of making history, and a relief.
“We are disappointed indeed,” said M Rangaswamy, founder of Indiaspora, an outfit that tracks the community. But he added, “Sri made it to the top two and that is creditable.”
Rangaswamy saw a lesson in the disappointment: “The community needs to get more politically active and engaged to make sure that next time around this becomes a reality.”
Others in the community said they felt relieved, given how messy the confirmation process is likely to be with the Republicans determined to block whoever is named.
“I would rather have Sri (Srinivasan) get a fair shot and not be a political football,” said an Indian-American federal government official who didn’t want to be identified.
They were both confident Srinivasan will get another chance.
Garland was considered by Obama twice before, according to reports, but the president went with female judges on both occasions — Sonia Sotomayor and Elia Kagan.
Apart from being eminently qualified for the job after 19 years on the DC circuit, experts said Garland is a moderate who has already found traction with Republicans and can build on it.
Republicans worry that an Obama nominee, who will be a liberal by definition, will most certainly tilt the ideological balance on the Supreme Court bench towards liberals.
Scalia was a conservative, and an outspoken one at that. Republicans wanted Scalia’s replacement to be named by the next president, who they hoped would be from their party.
They control both chambers of Congress, and crucially the Senate, whose approval is mandatory for presidential appointments such as this one to go through.
And they have threatened to not even consider the nomination. Obama addressed that issue in his speech introducing Garland, saying all he expects is a “fair” chance for his nominee.
The confirmation process is going to be messy, from all available indications, and one that could end up damaging the nominee’s chances forever if blocked this time.