Saritha Komatireddy – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York

A prominent federal prosecutor and former clerk to Justice Brett Kavanaugh (on the D.C. Circuit), Saritha Komatireddy would (if she lapped current nominee Diane Gujarati) be the first Indian American judge on the Eastern District and the first Telugu American judge on the federal bench.[1]

Background

Saritha Komatireddy grew up in Missouri, the daughter of doctors who had immigrated from Telangana in India, making her the first nominee from a Telugu background.[2]  As a child, Komatireddy was honored as a Presidential Scholar in 2001.[3]  Komatireddy attended Harvard University and Harvard Law School, getting her J.D. Magna Cum Laude in 2009.  Komatireddy then clerked for then-Judge Brett Kavanaugh on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.  After her clerkship, Komatireddy spent a year as Counsel for the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.

In 2011, Komatireddy became an Associate at Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans & Figel PLLC.  In 2013, she was hired by U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch (later the U.S. Attorney General) as an Assistant U.S. Attorney.  Komatireddy currently works in that office as Deputy Chief of General Crimes.  

History of the Seat

Komatireddy has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.  While she has not been officially submitted to the Senate yet, she will likely fill the seat vacated by Judge Joseph Bianco’s elevation to the Second Circuit, which is the longest pending vacancy on the Eastern District without a nominee, having opened in May 17, 2019.

Legal Experience

While Komatireddy has held a few different legal positions, her most prominent role has been as a federal prosecutor.  In the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, Komatireddy has prosecuted a number of challenging and complex cases, including pornography and terrorism.

For example, Komatireddy prosecuted Roy Naim, an immigration activist featured in Time magazine, for child pornography charges.[4]  Naim ended up with a 15 year sentence from Judge Nicholas Garaufis.[5]  In another case, Komatireddy prosecuted Phil Kenner for defrauding NHL players and other investors in a vast criminal enterprise.[6] 

Komatireddy’s most notable cases, however, involved the prosecutions of individuals for terrorism-related charges.  For example, Komatireddy secured a 16 year sentence against Agron Hasbajrami for attempting to join radical terrorist groups in Pakistan.[7]  Komatireddy also tried Muhanad Mahmoud Al Farekh, a U.S. citizen charged with involvement in attacks on U.S. bases in Afghanistan.[8]  Al Farekh was convicted and sentenced to 45 years in prison.  More recently, Komatireddy is prosecuting Ruslan Maratovich Asainov, who is alleged to be a sniper for ISIS, and who threatened to commit acts of terror if allowed to be free on bond.[9]

Additionally, Komatireddy was involved in a legal battle over Apple’s refusal to provide backdoors to the federal government to bypass password protections for their iPhones.[10]  The issue arose after Apple refused to unlock the iPhone of a defendant charged with drug distribution, leaving Komatireddy “clearly stunned.”[11]  Ultimately, a judge sided with Apple, arguing that the federal government could not compel the disclosure.[12] 

Writings

As a law student, Komatireddy authored an article discussing the recent Supreme Court case, Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly.[13]  The article critiques the decision, noting that it dramatically changes previous standards on pleading, and “seems to have created a more stringent pleading standard.”[14]  The Supreme Court later affirmed this reading of Twombly in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, expressly laying out a stricter pleading standard.[15] 

In other matters, Komatireddy wrote in support of Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination, joining a letter by former Kavanaugh clerks praising the Justice.[16]  In another statement, Komatireddy described Kavanaugh as a man with “fundamental respect for the law and a complete commitment to getting it right.”[17]  Notably, unlike fellow appointees Justin Walker and Sarah Pitlyk, Komatireddy did not make public statements in relation to the sexual assault allegations made by Prof. Christine Blasey Ford.

Overall Assessment

For the most part, assuming she keeps the support of Sens. Schumer and Gillibrand, Komatireddy will be confirmed comfortably.  If she faces any issues in the confirmation process, it’d likely be from two sources.  The first would be from opponents of Justice Kavanaugh who would object to her praise of his nomination.  The second would be from civil libertarians who object to Komatireddy’s role in seeking backdoor access to iPhones.  From her supporters, both arguments have viable counters: Komatireddy did not address Dr. Ford’s testimony and only praised Kavanaugh for his role as a D.C. Circuit judge; and Komatireddy has not the decisionmaker behind the “backdoor” program but merely sought to use a legal mechanism that Apple had acquiesced to in 70+ cases to assist in prosecutions.  Assuming such explanations carry the day, Komatireddy should expect confirmation before the end of the year.


[1] The Telugu American community, consisting of immigrants from the Telangana and Andhra Pradesh states in India, make up half a million in the U.S., including the author of this article.

[2] See Lawyer with Telangana Roots Posted as Judge in US District Court, Times of India, Feb. 23, 2020.

[3] Three Missouri Students Named as Presidential Scholars, A.P. State & Local Wire, May 16, 2001.

[4] See Ryan Gorman, Roy Naim, the ‘Jewish Face of the Immigration Reform Struggle’ Featured in Time Magazine, Arrested on Child Porn Charges and Denied Bail, MailOnline, Sept. 21, 2013.

[5] See John Marzulli, Time for Jail Cover Guy Gets 15 Years – Preyed on Cancer Kid, N.Y. Daily News, May 19, 2016.

[6] Michael O’Keeffe, Alleged Con Man Takes the Stand, Says NHLers, Others Got Testimony Wrong, N.Y. Daily News, June 18, 2015. 

[7] Press Release, Department of Justice, Albanian National Sentenced to 16 Years’ Imprisonment for Attempting to Support Terrorism, US Official News, Aug. 19, 2015.

[8] Tom Hays, Jury Hears Openings at Trial of American Terror Suspect, A.P. State & Local, Sept. 12, 2017.

[9] See Ruth Weissmann, NY ‘ISIS’: Free Me At Your Peril, N.Y. Post, Sept. 12, 2019.

[10] See Todd C. Frankel, Ellen Nakashima, Showdown over iPhone Reignites Privacy Debate, Wash. Post, Feb. 21, 2016.

[11] See id.

[12] Katie Benner and Joseph Goldstein, Judge Rules for Apple in New York iPhone Case, N.Y. Times, Mar. 1, 2016.

[13] Saritha Komatireddy Tice, A ‘Plausible’ Explanation of Pleading Standards: Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S. Ct. 1955 (2007), 31 Harv. J.L.  & Pub. Pol’y 827 (Spring 2008).

[14] Id. at 832.

[15] See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009).

[16] See Press Release, Office of Sen. Charles Grassley, Judge Kavanaugh Clerks Laud Nomination to Supreme Court, July 11, 2018.

[17] Press Release, Office of the Press Secretary, White House, The Legal Community is Giving Rave Reviews to Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s Nomination to the Supreme Court, July 12, 2018.

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