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Obama nominee to key appeals court sails through hearing

U.S. President Barack Obama walks out before he talks about the Fiscal Year 2014 Budget in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington,
U.S. President Barack Obama walks out before he talks about the Fiscal Year 2014 Budget in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington,

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama's nominee to an influential Washington, D.C., federal appeals court faced no outright opposition from Republican senators during a Senate hearing on Wednesday in a break from ongoing partisan battles over judicial appointments.

Obama, a Democrat, nominated Sri Srinivasan, 46, a political appointee in the Justice Department, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which tackles many major regulatory issues and other high-profile cases.

Srinivasan's bipartisan and pro-business credentials - he clerked for Republican-appointed judges, worked in the George W. Bush administration's Justice Department, and represented corporations in private practice - look set to smooth his passage to confirmation.

His reception among Republicans was in stark contrast to Obama's only other nominee to the court so far, New York lawyer Caitlin Halligan, who withdrew from consideration last month. Republicans twice blocked a confirmation vote after raising concerns about her "activism" as a lawyer for the state of New York.

During Wednesday's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Republican senators questioned Srinivasan about cases he had worked on, both in government and in private practice, but voiced no major doubts about the nomination.

"I intend to support you," said Utah Republican Orrin Hatch, long a member of the committee. A committee vote could come as early as next month before the nomination goes to the full Senate for confirmation.

Texas Republican Ted Cruz described himself as a long-standing friend of Srinivasan's dating back to their time together as law clerks in the U.S. appeals court based in Richmond, Virginia.

Cruz said Srinivasan had done a "very fine job" in answering the committee's questions.

WASHINGTON INSIDER

Srinivasan, much more of a Washington insider than Halligan, has the backing of influential Washington lawyers on both sides of the political divide. Born in India and reared in Kansas, Srinivasan would be the first South Asian to serve on a federal court of appeals.

He clerked for two jurists appointed by President Ronald Reagan: J. Harvie Wilkinson of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in Richmond, and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. He then spent more than a decade moving between corporate law firm O'Melveny & Myers and the Justice Department. From 2002 to 2007, during the Bush administration, he was a career lawyer in the Solicitor General's Office.

Obama is hoping to shape the makeup of the appeals court, having failed so far to add a single judge to the 11-strong bench despite there being four vacancies.

Of the current seven active judges on the court, four are Republican appointees.

Asked about how he would approach a role on the bench, Srinivasan said he would not have an "over-arching" judicial philosophy.

Instead he would approach each issue "on a case-by-case basis," he said.

Srinivasan ducked questions regarding gay marriage and corporate liability for human rights abuses - two matters he has worked on - by noting they were both issues pending before the Supreme Court.

In his current job as deputy to Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, he appeared before the Supreme Court last month when the justices weighed the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, which limits the definition of marriage under federal law to opposite-sex couples.

It was in his prior role in private practice that Srinivasan represented both Exxon Mobil Corp and Rio Tinto Ltd in defending the companies against human rights claims. Both those cases are pending before the high court while the justices decide a related case involving claims against Royal Dutch Shell.

Once that case is decided, "I would faithfully apply that precedent" if confirmed, Srinivasan said.

(Editing by Howard Goller and Mohammad Zargham)

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