WASHINGTON – Judge Merrick B. Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court on March 16 was greeted with a mix of praise and also disappointment by Asian Pacific Americans who had hoped that President Obama would select an Asian to serve on the nation’s highest court.

Siri Srinivasan, 49, a judge on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, was on the president’s short list and would have been, if confirmed by the Senate, the court’s first Hindu and first Indian American.

Judge Merrick Garland
Judge Merrick Garland

Instead, Obama turned to Garland, 63, a moderate, who serves as chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Garland will now face a Republican-controlled Senate whose leaders reiterated that they will block the nomination. Republicans have insisted that the next president should be allowed to fill the seat once held by the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

Christopher Kang of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans said in a statement, “While we are disappointed that President Obama did not nominate an Asian American today, we stand behind his nominee and are confident that when future Supreme Court vacancies occur, Asian Americans will continue to receive this highest level of consideration and that there will soon be an Asian American Supreme Court Justice.”

The Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund celebrated Srinivasan’s placement on the president’s short list of potential nominees. “While SALDEF called on President Obama to nominate the first Asian American Supreme Court justice, we realize the profound statement Sri Srinivasan made as the first Asian American in history to make it to a president’s ‘short list.’ SALDEF wholeheartedly supports President Obama’s nomination of Chief Judge Garland, we are encouraged by the consideration of Judge Srinivasan, and we eagerly await the first Asian American Supreme Court justice.”

Democrats on Capitol Hill wasted no time in urging Senate Republicans to hold nomination hearings for Garland.

“Nominating justices to the Supreme Court is one of the primary duties of the president. In naming Judge Merrick Garland, a seasoned jurist with a commendable record, President Obama has fulfilled that constitutional duty,” Rep. Judy Chu (D-Pasadena), chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said in a statement. “Now it is time for the Senate to fulfill theirs. Refusing to even meet with a nominee, as Senate Republicans are doing, is an unprecedented level of partisan dysfunction.”

Rep. Mark Takano (D-Riverside) said there was “no doubt” that Garland had the temperament to serve on the Supreme Court. “The only question is whether Senate Republicans will allow him to do so. A responsible Senate, committed to fulfilling its constitutional responsibility, would vote to confirm Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. I sincerely hope that is what they do.”

Rep. Mike Honda (D-San Jose) added: “Chief Judge Merrick Garland has already been considered for a seat on the Supreme Court because of his long history of excellent work on the D.C. Circuit. The president has chosen a man with amazing credentials, a mastery of the law and a history of independent legal thought.”

Criticized by progressive groups for selecting a white male instead of a woman or minority to serve on the Supreme Court, the White House later defended its record of diversity in judicial nominations. Josh Earnest, White House press secretary, said that Obama has appointed 117 minority members to the federal judiciary, including 27 Asian Americans.

Asian American leaders vowed to continue to push for an Asian American to serve on the high court. “While we are disappointed that an AAPI was not selected, we are pleased that President Obama strongly considered Judge Sri Srinivasan. The AAPI community wants a seat at the table in every venue and truly believes the bench of qualified AAPI candidates deserve consideration for the very next vacancy,” said Shekar Narasimhan, chairman and founder of the AAPI Victory Fund.

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