Sri Srinivasan, appointed to the D.C. Circuit court, was praised as being… (Chip Somodevilla / Getty…)
WASHINGTON — Deputy Solicitor Gen. 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 Circuit, giving President 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. Republicans said they had no hesitance in approving Srinivasan, unlike other Obama nominees. 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 worked as a clerk at the Supreme Court for Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, worked as a government attorney in both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations and practiced law at O'Melveny & Myers in Washington.
In his best-known case, Srinivasan argued before the Supreme Court on behalf of former Enron chief Jeffrey K. 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.
During Obama's first term, he was unable to put a judge on the D.C. Circuit court. His first nominee, New York attorney Caitlin Halligan, originally nominated in 2010 and then renominated in 2012 along with Srinivasan, was blocked by Republicans who cited her work on a state suit against gun manufacturers.
He will join a court that has four judges 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 seats vacant.
"It's sort of a lodestone of the hard right to make sure they control the D.C. Circuit," Schumer said at a news conference before the vote. "The sad fact is, even when we confirm Mr. Srinivasan, the all-important D.C. Circuit will still have three vacancies."
But Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) fired back and blamed Democrats for the "shenanigans" over the court nominees. "The fact of the matter is there is no obstruction, and the other side knows it," he said. He said the Senate had confirmed 99% of Obama's court nominees that have come to a vote.
Nationwide, 82 judicial seats are vacant, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Obama has 24 nominees pending.
Michael A. Memoli in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.