Sri Srinivasan becomes first Indian-American to lead a federal circuit court

Chandigarh-born Srinivasan succeeds Merrick Garland as chief judge of the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit

By Geeta Goindi

Washington, DC, February 19, 2020 – Sri Srinivasan has become the first person of Indian and South Asian descent to lead a federal circuit court in the country, and a very influential one at that!

The Chandigarh-born trailblazer, raised in Kansas, has donned the mantle of chief judge of the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, regarded as the second most powerful court in the land and a stepping stone to the Supreme Court, succeeding Merrick Garland who will remain on the bench.

It is very rare for a person of color to lead such a prominent appellate court; the federal judiciary is criticized for being predominantly male and white.

Sri, whose full name is Srikanth Srinivasan, is an Obama appointee who has already been considered for a Supreme Court seat. President Obama described Srinivasan as a “trailblazer” and nominated him as a judge on the DC Circuit in June 2012. He was unanimously confirmed by a Senate vote of 97-0 in May of the following year.

Srinivasan has served as a judge on the federal appeals court since 2013, the only Indian-American ever to do so. Now, as top judge, at 52, he will make decisions on the future of the court when it comes to administrative and transparency issues.

Accolades have followed sure and swift for the legal luminary, and from bipartisan officials.

Democratic senator Mark Warner of Virginia gushed, “History being made on the DC Court of Appeals. Congratulations, Judge Srinivasan”, he said on microblogging site Twitter.

Ajit Pai, the first Indian-American to serve as Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), designated by President Trump in January 2017, tweeted, “Congratulations to Judge Sri Srinivasan on becoming the Chief Judge of the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit! A milestone for the Indian-American/Kansan community (and yet another piece of evidence my family can use that I’m underachieving)”.

Srinivasan is blessed with an affable persona and down-to-earth demeanor which have stood him in good stead and endeared him to many!

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At his investiture, Sri Srinivasan (right) who was sworn-in as Judge of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, is seen with, from right to left: Mrs. Gursharan Kaur, wife of the then Indian prime minister Dr. Manmohan Singh; his mother Mrs. Saroja Srinivasan; the prime minister’s daughter Upinder Singh; and his sister Srija Srinivasan

At his investiture in October 2013 when he was sworn in as judge of the federal appeals court, Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III of the Fourth Circuit told an overflow crowd that Srinivasan has “never believed he has all the answers” and was confident that he will “revive the lost art of listening” on the bench.

Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who administered the oath of office, described him as “fair, faultless and fabulous”.

At the ceremony, Srinivasan took the oath on the sacred Bhagavad Gita held by his mother, Mrs. Saroja Srinivasan. Among those at hand were Garland, Srinivasan’s sisters Srija and Srinija and his twins Maya and Vikram who Garland called “the stars of the show”.

Addressing an attentive audience at the awe-inspiring event, Srinivasan credited his parents for his success. “This kind of occasion happened and this kind of opportunity came along because of a decision my parents made a long time ago”, he said. “My late father (Thirunankovil Padmanabhan Srinivasan) came from the humblest of humble beginnings from India. The journey that took him from there to this country and took us all to this occasion is virtually inconceivable. He brought us all to this country in search of the classic immigrant dream – the pursuit of opportunity and the happiness and fulfillment that comes with it because of the opportunities that this country affords. I would like to think that those aspirations have been very much realized”.

To his family he said, “My sisters, Srija and Srinija, I have relied on your love from a very early age and it has sustained me throughout. Maya and Vikram, you two give more love and inspiration to me than any parent can rightfully expect from a child. To my Mom, you have been with all of us at every meaningful step of the way. So, it is especially fitting that you were able to stand with me today to assist me in taking the oath of office”.

Earlier that year, at a reception celebrating his confirmation by the senate as judge on the DC Circuit, hosted by the then Indian ambassador Nirupama Rao at her official residence in Washington, Srinivasan expressed gratitude to Indian-Americans for their steadfast support.

He told a packed gathering of prominent community activists, “I know this occasion is meant to commemorate my confirmation, but it is due to so many of you who are here today. I would like, on behalf of our family, to express our gratitude to all of you for te instrumental roles you played in this process. All of you were essential and I am incredibly humbled and honored by my confirmation and by the tremendous support that all of you have given to me and my family”.

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Sri Srinivasan, the first Indian-American judge on the DC Circuit, mingles with guests at a reception held in his honor at the official residence of the Indian ambassador in Washington

Srinivasan underscored, “Of particular salience today is the support of the Indian-American and South Asian communities”. He was candid in admitting, “It is not something that I appreciated at the outset of this process. It’s something that I grew to appreciate a great deal more as the process moved on. And it is something that is so meaningful to us as immigrants from India”, he said.

An online link:

Sri Srinivasan becomes first Indian American to lead a federal circuit court

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