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The unexpected passing of Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the most influential jurists of recent American history, created an immediate vacancy on the Supreme Court and touched off a firestorm of controversy about how the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate will treat President Obama’s nomination to fill Justice Scalia’s seat.
On the GOP side, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the seat on the nation’s highest court should remain vacant until Obama’s successor takes office in January, so voters can have a say on the selection when they cast ballots in the Nov. 8 presidential election.
For his part, President Obama maintains that he has a constitutional duty to nominate a new justice and that Senators in turn have a constitutional obligation to provide “advice and consent” to that nomination by holding hearings and voting to approve or reject his nominee.
Provided they agree to hold confirmation hearings, the Senate Judiciary Committee will be scrutinizing the background and career of any nominee. To help inform the national conversation, we’ve surfaced relevant biographical information for six leading candidates for the open spot on the Court:
Sri Srinivasan (Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C. Circuit)
Srinivasan, 49, was born in India and raised in Kansas. He earned a bachelor of arts degree from Stanford University and both an MBA and a J.D. from Stanford University, where he was associate editor of the Stanford Law Review.
After law school, Srinivasan served as law clerk to J. Harvie Wilkinson III, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and then to Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
In 1997, Srinivasan joined O’Melveny & Myers as an associate in the firm’s Washington, D.C. office. In 2002, he went to work for the U.S. Department of Justice as Assistant to the Solicitor General, then returned to private practice in 2007 as a partner at O’Melveny & Myers. In 2011, he was appointed as Principal Deputy Solicitor General of the United States, a position he held for two years until he was appointed by President Obama to serve as a judge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Srinivasan was confirmed by a unanimous vote in 2013.
Patricia A. Millett (Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C. Circuit)
Millett, 52, was born in Maine. She earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and her J.D. from Harvard Law School, where she graduated magna *** laude.
After working at the law firm Miller & Chevalier for two years, she clerked for Judge Thomas Tang of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Following her clerkship, she worked for 4 years on the Appellate Staff of the Civil Division in the U.S. Department of Justice and for 11 years as an Assistant in the Office of the Solicitor General.
In September 2007, Millett became a partner leading the Supreme Court and appellate practices at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP. She was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 2013. She also holds a second-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do.
Merrick B. Garland (Chief Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit)
Garland, 63, was born in Chicago. He earned his undergraduate degree from Harvard University and his J.D. from Harvard Law School, where he graduated magna *** laude.
Garland was a law clerk for Judge Henry Friendly of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit from 1977 to 1978, clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. from 1978 to 1979, and served for two years as Special Assistant to the Attorney General of the United States.
Garland went into private practice in 1981 as an associate at Arnold & Porter, where he was later named partner. In private practice, Garland’s responsibilities included criminal, civil and national security issues. Garland left the private sector in 1989 to serve as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia.
After a brief return to Arnold & Porter in 1992, Garland was named as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. In the spring of 1995, he was the lead Justice Department prosecutor on-site in Oklahoma City, responsible for nationwide prosecution efforts and the initial proceedings against co-conspirators Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. He was promoted to Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General and served in this capacity until his appointment as U.S. Circuit Judge during the Clinton administration in 1997.
Jacqueline Hong-Ngoc Nguyen (Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for Ninth Circuit)
Nguyen, 50, was born in Vietnam, the daughter of a South Vietnamese Army major. She and her family were evacuated from Vietnam when she was 10, lived in a tent city at the Camp Pendleton Marine Base for several months, and ultimately moved to the Los Angeles area. She earned her bachelor of arts degree from Occidental College and her J.D. from UCLA Law School, both in Los Angeles.
From 1991 until 1995, Nguyen worked in private practice as a litigation associate at the firm Musick, Peeler & Garrett, working on commercial disputes, intellectual property and construction-defect cases. From 1995 to 2002, Nguyen served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Central District of California. She joined the U.S. Attorney’s office in its Public Corruption and Government Fraud section, overseeing United States Department of Defense fraud prosecutions, and served as Deputy Chief of the General Crimes section.
In 2002, Nguyen was appointed by California Gov. Gray Davis to serve as a judge in the Los Angeles County Superior Court, becoming the first-ever Vietnamese-American woman appointed to that bench. In 2009, President Obama nominated Nguyen to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California (confirmed 97-0) and, two years later, the President nominated her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (confirmed 91-3). She is the first Vietnamese-American woman to serve on the federal bench and the first Asian-American woman to serve on the U.S. appellate courts.
Paul J. Watford (Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit)
Watford, 48, was born in Garden Grove, Calif. He earned his bachelor of arts degree from UC Berkeley and his J.D. from UCLA Law School, where he earned membership in the Order of the Coif and served as an editor of the UCLA Law Review.
Watford started his legal career as a law clerk to Judge Alex Kozinski (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit) and then clerked for two years for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In 1996, he joined the law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson, but the next year he joined the U.S. Department of Justice as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Major Frauds Section, Criminal Division, for the Central District of California.
After a three-year stint working for the government, Watford returned to private practice by joining the Los Angeles office of Sidley & Austin, then moved back to Munger Tolles & Olson in 2001, where he became partner in 2003. Watford practiced law at Munger until 2012, focusing on appellate litigation. In 2011, President Obama nominated Watford to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (confirmed 61-34).
Jane Kelly (Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for Eighth Circuit)
Kelly, 51, was born in Greencastle, Ind. She earned a bachelor of arts degree from Duke University and her J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1991, where her graduating class included a promising student named Barack Obama.
After graduation from law school, Kelly was a law clerk for Chief Judge Donald J. Porter of the U.S. District Court for South Dakota in Sioux Falls. She then clerked for Judge David R. Hansen of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.
In 1994, Kelly became an assistant Federal Public Defender in the Northern District of Iowa, then served as the supervising attorney in the Cedar Rapids, Iowa office from 1999 to 2013. In 2013, President Obama nominated Kelly to serve as a Judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit (confirmed 96-0).
*The information contained in these biographical profiles was excerpted from the LexisNexis® Litigation Profile Suite.
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