These Indian American judges serve in top legal jobs from east to west coast.
By Revathi Siva Kumar
Indian Americans have made waves in all fields from academics to law. And from Democrat Bill Clinton to Republican Donald Trump, American presidents have tapped them to fill crucial judicial posts.
From Chandigarh-born Sri Srinivasan serving on what is perceived to be the nation’s second most powerful court in Washington to San Franciscan Vince Chhabria, they are setting new benchmarks.
Here meet some of the top Indian legal achievers:
Chief Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
A trailblazer, Srinivasan, 52, is used to making history. Raised in Lawrence, Kansas, he first did it when he became a judge of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in May 2013 as a nominee of then President Barack Obama.
He did it again in February when he became the first person of South Asian descent to be elevated as Chief Judge of the court seen as a stepping stone to the US Supreme Court.
Srinivasan recently acknowledged at a gathering that “it’s natural to doubt whether you belong and whether you’re worthy, but you do belong and you are worthy.”
Armed with a BA from Stanford University, a JD from Stanford Law School, and an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, the intrepid lawyer took 25 cases before the nation’s highest court.
He also taught appellate advocacy at Harvard Law School and conducted a seminar on civil rights statutes as well as the Supreme Court at Georgetown University Law Center.
Neomi Jehangir Rao
Circuit Judge, Chief Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
Born to Parsi parents in 1973, Rao was the second Indian American to join the powerful DC Circuit Court of Appeals.
Nominated by President Trump last year, she recently hit the headlines when she wrote the 2-1 majority opinion, asking a lower court judge to drop a case against his former National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn.
Before joining the court, Rao, 45, served as Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, part of the White House Office of Management and Budget, from 2017 to 2019.
In the federal court, she took the seat vacated by Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. “She’s going to be fantastic – great person,” Trump said.
Amul Roger Thapar
Circuit Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
Appointed by President Trump as a circuit judge of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati with jurisdiction over federal courts in four states, he assumed office in May 2017.
The first South Asian federal judge in America, Thapar was Trump’s first Court of Appeals appointment and his second judicial appointment.
A former District Judge of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, he is frequently discussed as a short-lister for the Supreme Court.
Thapar was born in Troy, Michigan, to immigrant parents and raised in Toledo, Ohio. After receiving a BS degree from Boston College in 1991, he earned a JD from UC Berkeley School of Law in 1994.
Amit Priyavadan Mehta
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia
Appointed by Obama as a District judge for the District of Columbia, Gujarat-born, Mehta, 49, began his term on Dec 19, 2014.
Raised in Reisterstown, Maryland, Mehta received his BA degree in 1993 from Georgetown University and a JD in 1997 from the University of Virginia School of Law, graduating Order of the Coif.
In July 2019, he ruled in favor of pharmaceutical firms, blocking a Trump administration rule that required drug makers to put prices in television ads, mainly to lower the cost of prescription medications.
Off the record, Mehta is a softball coach, and enjoys hip-hop music and lyrics, especially Jay-Z, Kanye West, Drake, and Eminem.
An Obama appointee, Chhabria, 50, has served as District Judge in the Northern District of California since 2014. He was earlier a Deputy City Attorney at the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office.
Chhabria’s ruling favoring IMDb.com in a case against parties that sought to bar it from posting the birth dates of actors, stands out.
In 2016, the US Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation appointed him to preside over the coordinated and consolidated pretrial proceedings for all product liability lawsuits filed against Monsanto.
After receiving a BA degree in 1991 from the University of California, Santa Cruz, Chhabria got a JD in 1998 from the UC Berkeley School of Law, graduating Order of the Coif.
From 2005 to 2013, he served in the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office, finally as Deputy City Attorney for Government Litigation and also the Co-Chief of Appellate Litigation.
Additionally, the following two Indian Americans are currently awaiting Senate confirmation:
Another Trump nominee, Komatireddy is awaiting Senate confirmation to be a judge of the federal court in the Eastern District of New York
A prosecutor, who also teaches at the Columbia Law School, she is currently the Deputy Chief of General Crimes in the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District.
Before that, she was Acting Deputy Chief, International Narcotics and Money Laundering (June, 2018 – January, 2019) and Computer Hacking and Intellectual Property Coordinator (2016-2019).
Komatireddy was also a counsel to the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.
A nominee of President Trump, Washington DC lawyer Vijay Shanker, is awaiting Senate confirmation to be a judge on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.
Currently a Senior Litigation Counsel in the Department of Justice, Criminal Division’s Fraud Section, Shanker is best known for his investigation and prosecution of violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and related offenses.
Shanker, who has argued almost 60 federal appeals, has won several awards, including the Attorney General’s John Marshall Award and the Roger & Madeleine Traynor Prize for “the graduate who has produced the best written work.”
He is also an adjunct associate professor at the Washington College of Law of the American University.
Endorsing his nomination, the South Asian Bar Association of Washington, wrote, Shanker “would enhance the diversity of the DC Court of Appeals bench” and “increase access and acceptability of justice”.