Srinivasan, who was also on Obama’s shortlist for the high court, shares Garland’s moderate style in his rulings and in his demeanor in questioning lawyers who argue before the court. He is similarly well-liked by colleagues and is viewed as slow to talk but quick to listen on a court known for its collegiality.
The completion of Garland’s seven-year term and the introduction of his successor were marked Thursday with slide shows, speeches and the outgoing chief’s favorite peanut M&Ms at the court, which handles high-profile separation-of-powers cases and has been a steppingstone by which judges rise to the Supreme Court.
Four of the nine sitting Supreme Court justices have served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. And the court could rule at any time on lawsuits filed by House Democrats seeking testimony from President Trump’s former White House counsel Donald McGahn and access to secret grand jury material from former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation.
There was no direct mention Thursday of President Trump’s latest attacks on the judiciary and U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who is to sentence the president’s friend Roger Stone next week. Jackson works in the same courthouse and attended the event. One of the speakers, Judge Thomas B. Griffith, alluded generally to the outside pressures on the courts.
“As it turns out, the rule of law is a fragile possibility that needs protection from partisans and demagogues,” he said. “No one better exemplifies this commitment to the rule of law than Merrick Garland.”
The title of chief judge comes with a higher profile and administrative headaches but no additional judicial authority on a court where judges sit on panels of three. Ascension to the post is based on age and years of service on the bench.
During his tenure, Garland enhanced transparency at the D.C. Circuit, making it easier for the public to listen to oral arguments through live-stream audio. Recordings had previously been available online, but hours after hearings occurred. Garland was active in the federal judiciary’s policymaking body, the Judicial Conference, and also was deeply involved in overhauling the system for reporting misconduct and workplace harassment in the federal court system.
The changes to the system followed sexual misconduct claims against a once-prominent appeals court judge in California. Similar allegations were aired during a House committee meeting Thursday by a former clerk to a second judge on the same court.
Judge Cornelia T.L. Pillard praised Garland for working to reduce the risk of “abuse of power” by judges and for ensuring a safe, harassment-free workplace.
Garland, 67, is a former top Justice Department prosecutor and was nominated to the bench by President Bill Clinton. In his annual report on the judiciary in December, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. commended Garland, without naming him, for his two decades of tutoring students at J.O. Wilson Elementary School in Washington and for “inspiring his court colleagues to join the effort.”
When Obama tapped Garland to fill the vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016, Garland’s then-D.C. Circuit colleague Brett M. Kavanaugh was quick to call Garland “supremely qualified” and a “role model to me in how he goes about his job.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), however, refused to act on the nomination, paving the way for Trump to nominate Neil M. Gorsuch to the high court.
Srinivasan, an Obama nominee, was confirmed to the D.C. Circuit with bipartisan support in 2013, having worked in the solicitor general’s office for Republican and Democratic presidents, and as a law clerk for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
Srinivasan was born in Chandigarh, India, and migrated to the United States with his parents and two sisters at age 4. His father was a professor of mathematics at the University of Kansas, and his mother taught at the Kansas City Art Institute.
He was a star basketball player at his Kansas high school. Srinivasan holds three degrees from Stanford University. He continues to play in the annual basketball game at the Supreme Court between law clerks from both benches and is still highly competitive, dislocating a finger during last year’s contest.
Srinivasan, 52, spoke recently about his path to the bench at an event celebrating women in the law, a field where men still dominate leadership positions. He took the oath of citizenship from a federal judge when he was 23. Twenty-three years later, he took the oath to become a federal judge.
“Everybody doubts their belonging and worthiness in some measure. I definitely did — and still do. This is just going to be a part of the thing when you’re looking out in the world in which everyone isn’t like you. It’s natural to doubt whether you belong and whether you’re worthy,” he said, “but you do belong and you are worthy.”