Who’s Likely to Warm the Nation’s Highest Bench?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because even Senate Republicans might prefer an Obama justice to a Trump pick.
By Tracy Moran
And then there were three. OZY’s cofounder Samir Rao predicted in 2014 that Srikanth Srinivasan might become the first Asian-American to don the famous black robes on America’s highest court. Obama has narrowed his list of potential nominees to three and could name names as early as this week, according to Politico. And Mr. Srinivasan? So far, he’s reportedly made the cut.
Sure, it’ll be an uphill climb for anyone to win over Senate Republicans and succeed conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. The GOP, after all, has told Obama not to bother because they’ll reject anyone he selects. But we thought we’d be a bit more judicious … and look at the shortlist.
Srikanth “Sri” Srinivasan, 49
This Indian native emigrated and settled with his family in Lawrence, Kansas, where he shared a high school basketball court in the 1980s with Danny Manning — the current head coach at Wake Forest. In 2013, when he was unanimously confirmed by the Senate 97–0, Srinivasan became the first South Asian to occupy a seat on the District of Columbia’s Federal Court of Appeals, which Rao calls a “well-known ‘feeder school’ for the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Srinivasan’s equipped with three degrees — all from Stanford, where he did his undergrad, attended law school and earned an MBA. He clerked for former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, has argued SCOTUS cases and successfully challenged the Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage as a heterosexual union.
Merrick Garland, 63
Born and raised in Illinois, Garland is the chief judge of the SCOTUS “feeder school.” A Harvard Law School grad, the Chicago native — who clerked for Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. in the 1970s — has been on the president’s wish list before. He’s served on D.C.’s Federal Court of Appeals since being appointed by President Clinton in 1997, when he was confirmed in a 76–23 vote.
While Garland is respected on both sides of the aisle, his chances may be limited by the fact that he’s a white male in his 60s — presidents tend to appoint younger justices who will have a longer tenure on the court, and Obama is known for seeking judicial diversity on a court that’s still 50 percent white men.
Paul Watford, 48
This California native is currently a circuit judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. A Berkeley grad, Watford is the youngest of the three, and the only one without an Ivy League diploma. If chosen, he’d become the third African-American to take to the bench.
Trouble is, Watford was blocked by all but nine Republicans for his current gig when the Senate confirmed him 61–34 in 2012, and his dim view of capital punishment is unlikely to win him many friends with conservatives.
The court is currently composed of three female justices, including one Hispanic, one Black male and four white men, and they tend to be evenly split along ideological lines. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has said that there won’t be enough women on the court until “there are nine,” but Obama’s clearly going in another direction after appointing two women in a row.
Scalia himself notably advocated for more religious diversity on the court just last year, as well as greater representation from middle America — most of the current justices hail from the East or West Coasts. The Kansan on the shortlist could be the court’s first Hindu, ticking both of Scalia’s boxes — at least in terms of regional and religious diversity — so we’re doubling down on Rao’s prediction. Go, Srinivasan!