Left frets about possible Obama pick for high court

Sri Srinivasan is on President Obama’s short list for the Supreme Court, but his representation of corporate clients is causing heartburn for the left.

Srinivasan is an attractive candidate for Obama, who wants to make Republicans look as bad as possible if they follow through on their vow to blockade any nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

{mosads}Confirmed to the D.C. Circuit in 2013 by a vote of 97-0, Srinivasan is a friend of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and would seem to be a difficult nominee for Republicans to object to given their past, unanimous support.

He’d also be the first Indian-American and Hindu to serve on the Supreme Court.

The problem?

As an attorney for O’Melveny & Myers, he defended ExxonMobil and mining giant Rio Tinto for allegations of serious human rights abuses in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

“It’s hard to find a worse client than defending Exxon Mobil against allegations of torture and war crimes,” Jamie Henn, communications director for, a group that advocates for a safe climate and a just, prosperous and equitable world.

He accused Srinivasan of helping corporations “dismantle human rights law,” and called his record “deeply disturbing.”

“Unless he can clarify that he no longer stands behind these arguments, he should be disqualified,” he said.

Srinivasan’s work as a lawyer for the Department of Justice has also drawn scrutiny because of connections it may have to his work in the private sector.

Critics on the left say more light needs to be shed on his work at the Department of Justice when it submitted a brief to the Supreme Court supporting Royal Dutch Petroleum in a lawsuit alleging the company engaged in human rights abuses.

“We do think there should be full disclosure of his role as a lawyer at the Department of Justice at a time when the solicitor general’s office was formulating positions on corporations’ liability for human rights abuses,” said Marco Simons of EarthRights International.

In 2013, the group urged senators to oppose Srinivasan’s nomination to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, citing his work for ExxonMobile and calling him “one of the principle architects” of a corporate strategy to undermine the use of U.S. law to fight human rights abuses around the world.

It has since “reconsidered” its opposition because his record on the appellate court “has demonstrated that he is a fair and thoughtful jurist” not held captive by corporate interests, the group said.   

Nevertheless, the group argues that the Obama administration should fully reveal Srinivasan’s activities — especially on the legal question of applying U.S. law to corporate abuses overseas — while at the Justice Department, where he served as deputy solicitor general from 2011 to 2013.  

The Justice Department filed an amicus curiae brief in June of 2012 arguing that Royal Dutch/Shell should not be sued in U.S. court under the Alien Tort Statute for human rights abuses in Nigeria.

The case involved a plaintiff who sued the oil company for liability after her husband was murdered after protesting the oil company’s practices.

The court ruled that the company was not liable in the United States for alleged abuses in Africa, even though the woman was a U.S. resident and Royal Dutch/Shell has a presence domestically.

It’s unclear whether Srinivasan was at all involved in the Justice brief, but the environmental groups want firm answers if he is nominated to the Supreme Court.

They argue the ruling in favor of Royal Dutch/Shell led directly to the dismissal of a lawsuit against Srinivasan’s former client, Rio Tinto, in June of 2013. The litigation against ExxonMobile is still pending.

“There were substantial implications for some of his former clients,” said Simons of EarthRights International. “If he was excluded from the brief, we’d like that to be confirmed. If he wasn’t, we’d like to know why.”

Simons noted the brief was so controversial that the State Department, which had coauthored another amicus brief with Justice earlier in the litigation, declined to sign on.

Srinivasan’s name does not appear on the controversial brief. Instead, it lists Edwin Kneedler, the other deputy solicitor general. But Simons says that doesn’t mean much.

“Often there are many more people than listed on the brief who are involved in the process,” he said.

Other groups on the left have raised concerns over Srinivasan.

In 2013, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka issued a critical statement, declaring, “Srinivasan’s record should be closely examined to get a full picture of his professional background and experience.

Trumka argued the president should nominate judges who understand the challenges facing working families.

An AFL-CIO official said Friday that the union did not have anything more to say about Srinivasan.

Alliance for Justice, another liberal group, also questioned Srinivasan’s background in 2013. The group said his career “left open some questions about his commitments to workers’ rights and to the rights of everyday Americans facing corporate and banking interests on the federal court.”

That group has also declined to comment on his possible nomination to the Supreme Court. Liberal groups are by and large holding back on discussing potential nominees until Obama reveals his selection, which is expected next week.

Conservatives, on the other hand, have touted Srinivasan in the past, which could make him a tempting nominee when Republicans have ruled out hearings and a confirmation vote. 

Ted Olson, who served as solicitor general under President George W. Bush, and Ken Starr, who investigated the Monica Lewinsky scandal during the Clinton administration, both backed Srinivasan in 2013.

Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran (R) warmly praised Srinivasan, who grew up in Kansas, while his circuit court nomination was pending.

Moran called him “a very highly qualified individual of integrity” and one of his state’s “most accomplished legal minds.”


Tags Jerry Moran Sri Srinivasan Supreme Court Ted Cruz

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video