Sunday, February 14, 2016

Srikanth "Sri" Srinivasan as Antonin Scalia's replacement?

With Justice Scalia's sudden demise, there is intense speculation on the replacement.  A name that seems to pop up in most commentators' list: Srikanth "Sri" Srinivasan

Nearly three years ago, when Srinivasan was in the news, I authored an op-ed in the Register Guard; am re-posting it here:

Srikanth "Sri" Srinivasan received an overwhelming Senate confirmation as a judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and was sworn in on June 18th.  The Senate confirmed his appointment with a 97-0 vote.  Yes, this same current Senate, where bills routinely go to die, found his credentials to be so compelling that apparently they had nothing but congratulatory remarks.  Who would not want to be loved thus?

Srinivasan is the first Indian-American, and the first South-Asian too, to have reached that stratified judicial atmosphere.  Further, with the commentary on the DC Circuit Court as a springboard for nominations to the Supreme Court, and with all the uniformly lavish praise for Srinivasan, there is a distinct possibility that he could very well become the first Indian-American justice at the highest court of the land.  Is it any surprise at all, therefore, that Srinivasan’s ascent did not go unnoticed not only by Indian-Americans like me, but even in my old country?  It was a judicial appointment that echoed all the way on the other side of the planet.

Many of the biographic sketches that accompanied the reports on his nomination included the name of the village in southern India where his family roots are--Mela Thiruvenkatanathapuram.  Try that for a tongue-twister!  When I learnt from a Google search that this village could be located very near the village where my father grew up, I called him up right away.  Indeed, the two villages are not that far apart and are located along the banks of the same river, Thamirabarani.  

The Thamirabarani at Srivaikuntam

Father added that there was extensive coverage of the nomination in the newspapers and on television.  He joked that we were not related to the Srinivasan family, but it seemed that father was a tad disappointed over that!

Srinivasan was born and raised far from this small village, in the northern part of India where his father, T.P. Srinivasan, was on the faculty of the University of Punjab.  Sri Srinivasan was four years old when the family immigrated to the United States as a result of his father taking up an academic position initially at Berkeley, before moving to Kansas.  I would imagine that an immigrant Indian family in Kansas in the early 1970s would have been quite an exotic addition.

My excitement about Srinivasan is not at all about identity-politics.  The intention is not to categorize and count the population by the respective hyphenations and demand any proportional representation.  Instead, it is a profound appreciation for this adopted country of mine where it matters very little anymore where we came from.  My excitement about Srinivasan is to celebrate the fact that one can come to the United States from any corner of the world and potentially become a Supreme Court judge.  

In a country where even only a couple of decades ago life was not easy for those who were not White Anglo Saxon Protestant, it is simply fascinating how different the contemporary landscape is.  In the current Supreme Court, three justices are Jewish and the rest, including the Chief Justice, are Catholic.  While we might have our own disagreements with the court’s opinions, we attribute those differences to legal interpretations of the Constitution that might be colored by politics.  The religious backgrounds of the justices do not matter to us. What a remarkably healthy change this is over the years past.   

If Srinivasan were to join the Supreme Court to fill a vacancy created by the retirement or demise of a current justice, he would then become the first who was raised in a religious background outside of the Judeo-Christian beliefs.  It is almost impossible to believe that a mere ninety years ago, a Supreme Court justice refused to speak with Louis Brandieis and sit with him for the court’s official portrait because Brandies was Jewish, and now it is entirely possible for one of Hindu origin to join that very court!  To borrow the comedian Yakov Smirnoff’s line, “America, what a country!

With Srinivasan, we have yet another evidence that the Indian-American group is more than Spelling Bee champions, and math and science nerds.  There are Indian-Americans in movies and television shows, in the literary and corporate worlds, and even as animated fictional characters like Apu in “The Simpsons.”  If only there were a Cy Young award-winning Indian-American pitcher--and a southpaw at that--to complete the all-American composite image!


Ramesh said...

What has surprised me in a negative way is that talk of Scalia's replacement started only a nano second after his passing away. I am no fan of Scalia, but I would have thought respect to him and his family would have meant not talking of such things at least until his funeral. The presidential candidates fell over themselves taking positions of the replacement in the most unseeming of ways. Only Sanders and Kasich, to an extent I thought were respectful and observed decorum.

I don't subscribe to the brouhahaha over Srinivasan. And there is no chance of an "Indian-American" pitcher. No self respecting Indian would take to that abominable game when the pristine gentleman's version of the Queen's game exists :)

Sriram Khé said...

I know you don't like Paul Krugman's take on the political economy ... but, if you bear with his words, then you will find his column to be along the lines of what you are commenting here. Krugman opens his column with this:
"Once upon a time, the death of a Supreme Court justice wouldn’t have brought America to the edge of constitutional crisis. But that was a different country, with a very different Republican Party. In today’s America, with today’s G.O.P., the passing of Antonin Scalia has opened the doors to chaos."
Read the column at:

Kasich is not a crazy partisan ... he seems way closer to Bush the senior that way ... which also means that his campaign is not an easy one.
Speaking of Sanders, the other NY Times columnist whom you perhaps like--David Brooks--had a thoughtful column on Sanders' policies, wondering whether the youth really understand the implications of Sanders' ideas ...
The US democracy is not looking like the model that it ought to be ;)

Anne in Salem said...

I wish we could do away with all the hyphens in identifiers. I am not Catholic-American or Irish-, French-, German- or English-American. I am an American, period, no hyphens. By the way, yes, I am all those, many generations removed from the boats, including the Mayflower, that brought my ancestors. Is the hyphen relevant any more? Can we put a generational limit on it - if you personally immigrated, you can use a hyphen, but your children cannot? It seems more divisive than inclusive. Is it necessary for cultural identity?

Securing a replacement for Scalia will be an ugly process. Not looking forward to all the accusations and grand-standing.

I am certain the young do not understand the impact of their support of Sanders. They are too young and inexperienced.

Sriram Khé said...

Anne, you are able to say that now because "your people" are way past those days. But, even during the "white" migration, every immigrant group was set aside and, therefore, the forced consciousness about the difference even if the immigrants wanted to assimilate. Even a Ben Franklin was worried about "those Germans."
It is easy for the traditionally powerful and privileged to call for an end to identity politics. It is the similar story back in the old country too.
Unless those who have been historically disadvantaged truly feel that they are being treated as equals, well, the hyphens will exist. And because humans love power and privilege, it means that hyphens won't go away anytime soon ...

Most read this past month