With news of the death of Justice Antonin Scalia just hours old, the name of Srikanth “Sri” Srinivasan emerged as the most likely replacement for Scalia — a 48-year-old United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia justice who was approved to the nation’s second-highest court by a unanimous 97-0 vote in the Senate when President Barack Obama named Srinivasan to the federal bench in 2013.
Among the Republican senators who voted in favor of approving Srinivasan to the D.C. appeals court, which has been the last stop before the Supreme Court for three of the current, surviving justices as well as Scalia himself, were current GOP presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.
Sri Srinivasan—who Obama nominated to D.C. Circuit & may nominate now—was confirmed on a 97-0 vote in 2013. McConnell, Cruz, Rubio voted yes
— Taniel (@Taniel) February 14, 2016
Nonetheless, shortly after news of Scalia’s passing became public on Saturday, Cruz stated that Obama should not be permitted to appoint Scalia’s successor — despite the fact that Obama will remain president until January 20 of 2017, and it is the constitutional responsibility of the president to nominate Supreme Court justices for the Senate to approve.
Justice Scalia was an American hero. We owe it to him, & the Nation, for the Senate to ensure that the next President names his replacement.
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) February 13, 2016
Numerous Republicans echoed Cruz’s call to prevent Obama from naming Scalia’s successor.
“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. “Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”
But the president ignored those calls and quickly announced that he would present a nominee to the senate after all, “in due time,” citing his “constitutional responsibility” to do so.
Watch Obama deliver his remarks on the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in the video below.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid agreed with Obama.
“It would be unprecedented in recent history for the Supreme Court to go a year with a vacant seat,” the Nevada senator said on Saturday. “Failing to fill this vacancy would be a shameful abdication of one of the Senate’s most essential constitutional responsibilities.”
Ever since Obama named Sri Srinivasan — who had been the country’s Principal Solicitor General, arguing numerous cases before the Supreme Court on behalf of the government — to the District of Columbia Appeals Court in May of 2013, his name has been rumored to be Obama’s selection to fill the first Supreme Court vacancy to come up.
— Jeffrey Toobin (@JeffreyToobin) February 13, 2016
As deputy solicitor general, Srinivansan led the Obama administration’s case against the Defense of Marriage Act, which resulted in same-sex marriage becoming constitutional throughout the country, as well as cases in favor of affirmative action policies and opposing restrictive voting laws.
But according to a report in Mother Jones magazine prior to his appointment to the appeals court in 2013, the personal viewpoints held by Srinivansan — a native of Chandigarh, India, and graduate of Stanford University — remain a bit of a mystery.
“Srinivasan has more bipartisan legal muscle behind him than any other federal court nominee in recent memory. Legal elites of all political stripes consider him one of the best lawyers in the country,” wrote Adam Serwer. “But no one really knows what he believes.”
The Supreme Court currently faces what already appeared to be one of its most controversial sessions in recent years, with such issues as abortion, immigration, climate change, and yet another attempt to weaken the “Obamacare” health care reform bill on its docket.
The Supreme Court has been divided by a 5-4 margin on numerous recent, important cases, with the court’s conservative wing holding the slim advantage. But with the death of Scalia, a hard-line conservative, the court risks a 4-4 split on many of not all of the crucial cases it will hear this year — unless a new justice is approved to join the court.
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In the case of a 4-4 tie, the court effectively renders no decision and lower court decisions are allowed to stand.
Srikanth “Sri” Srinivasan would not be the first Supreme Court justice to be nominated in an election year. In 1988, the last year of his second term, President Ronald Reagan nominated Anthony Kennedy to the court.
[Featured Photo By Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]