Very Different Indian-Americans

By Kenneth Tiven

Vivek Ramaswamy wants to prove that a rich Indian-American who is a smart, right-wing conservative can become president of the US. After all, he understands that Donald Trump proved political experience is not a prerequisite to being elected president. Arun Subramanian showed that a successful lawyer focusing on consumer protection and defending those injured by unfair, illegal practices can become a federal judge. This differs from judges pushed through Congress by Trump as president with their legal diplomas still having wet ink.

Ramaswamy was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1985 to parents from South India. His mother Geetha was a psychiatrist while his father is an engineer and patent lawyer. An overachiever in high school, he graduated from Harvard University and Yale Law School. In 2014, he helped start Roivant Sciences, which was developing an Alzheimer’s drug. He apparently made millions of dollars, but that product never came to market. 

The 39-year-old rarely mentions that in his speeches which dwell on attacking liberal values in more polished language than more well-known Republicans. Appearing at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) recently, his speech called for a national revival focused on a return to the values of America in the 19th century.

Ramaswamy finished with 1% in the straw poll, which may be indicative of his chances in the Republican primaries next year. In an interview on Fox Business network, he said he had been offered a boost in CPAC’s straw votes if he was willing to “pay” for it. He said he didn’t take the offer because “that is fake. So why would I want to?” The conference had embarrassingly low attendance and lacked sponsors, despite being held in the Washington area for the first time since 2020. Among the declared contenders attending were Trump and Nikki Haley. 

Ramaswamy’s new company Strive Asset Management offers ETF opportunities to individual buyers. An “exchange-traded fund” is a basket of investments such as stocks or bonds, often with lower fees than other types of funds. The attraction is diversification by investing in a package of assets in one transaction.

In line with his political thinking, Ramaswamy explained that he would not ask the companies invested to “push political agendas”, but only to deliver quality products and services to make money for shareholders. His generous use of Twitter attracted Fox News which had him as guest on a Tucker Carlson show. This convinced him that he should be in national politics.

A New Yorker magazine profile noted that his mother had never heard of Tucker Carlson or watched Fox News before her son started showing up on the network. “I wish he could be on other channels as well,” she said. But, to her chagrin (and to his, though he’s slower to admit it), other networks weren’t biting.

Perhaps because Ramaswamy said that affirmative action is a “national cancer”. Indeed, he says that his first step—if elected—will be to cancel Executive Order 11246, which has been in place since 1965 and “requires affirmative action and prohibits federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of race, colour, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or national origin.” Obviously, rights that company bosses enjoyed 100-plus years ago.

Arun Subramanian is in stark contrast. The attorney, born in 1979 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has been confirmed by the US Senate as a federal Judge for the Southern District of New York. Chuck Schumer, Senate majority leader for the Democrats, describes him as proving America is a great nation. “He’s a son of Indian immigrants, and the 1st South Asian-American judge confirmed to SDNY, which has one of the largest South Asian-American populations in the country. He’s an expert in consumer protection with years of experience defending those injured by unfair, illegal practices. He’s also defended victims of child trafficking in pornography. Our courts need more people like Arun Subramanian.”

As a private attorney, Subramanian successfully redeemed over a billion dollars for public and private entities that were the victims of fraud and other illegal conduct. The confirmation votes of 58-37 reflect Republicans, who dislike any regulations of business.

His parents immigrated in the early 1970s, with his father working as a control systems engineer at several companies; his mother worked several jobs, including as a bookkeeper. He graduated summa cum laude from Case Western Reserve University in 2001 and from Columbia University’s law school, three years later.

His approach to the law is influenced by having served as a law clerk for the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court of the United States from 2006 to 2007.

Subramanian wrote after she died: “I thought about the mentor I had lost. Justice Ginsburg was a Titan. During her forty years of public service, and really her entire legal career, she lived by Deuteronomy’s teaching—‘Justice, Justice thou shalt pursue’. She was an icon, a genius, a hero, a shining example of how to overcome incredible challenges while staying true to oneself. She fought for the rights of the downtrodden, the marginalized, and the voiceless. Slight in physical stature, even-tempered, and a quiet, measured voice among those much louder and showier, the Justice nevertheless was a giant. Her words and presence had a gravitational pull, or in her own words, ‘staying power’. During the year I clerked for Justice Ginsburg, October Term 2006, the Justice had more losses than wins. But even in defeat, her words carried unmistakable force.”

Her dissent in the Lilly Ledbetter case was memorable. Shortly before her retirement, Lilly Ledbetter sued Goodyear Tire because she had for years been systematically paid less than her male counterparts. A jury awarded her back pay and damages. But on appeal, the Eleventh 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court affirmed. The reason? Ledbetter had filed her claims too late.

In the view of a majority of the Supreme Court, the clock to file a charge with the EEOC complaining about pay discrimination started to run when the unequal pay began.  Justice Ginsburgh’s dissent laid into the majority’s rationale: “The Court does not comprehend or is indifferent to the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination.” She noted that the SCOTUS majority counselled women to “sue early on… when it is uncertain whether discrimination accounts for the pay disparity you are beginning to experience,” and when “you may not know that men are receiving more for substantially similar work”.

The Justice observed that “of course, you are likely to lose a less-than-fully baked case.” On the other hand, “if you sue only when the pay disparity becomes steady and large enough to enable you to mount a winnable case, you will be cut off at the court’s threshold for suing too late”. Justice Ginsburg lamented that the Court’s decision “cannot be what Congress intended when Title VII outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, colour, religion, sex or national origin in our nation’s workplaces”. And she invited Congress to step in and fix things: “Today, the ball…lies in Congress’ court.” The Justice’s words were powerful and moving. I remember just how quiet it was when the Justice announced her dissent, her words taking the oxygen out of the room.

Subramanian writes: “And her forceful, commonsense response to the majority was exactly what was needed. We were all listening. Not only in the courtroom or in the legal academy, but in the halls of Congress. Less than two years later, the same month President Obama was inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States, the first bill he signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which reversed the Court’s decision, making clear that the clock on equal pay claims like Ledbetter’s is restarted with every paycheck, regardless of when the discrimination began.” 

—The writer has worked in senior positions at The Washington Post, NBC, ABC and CNN and also consults for several Indian channels