WASHINGTON D.C. – President Barack Obama’s decision to nominate Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court Wednesday morning means that at long last, the oft-short-listed candidate finally gets his shot.
Garland is the chief judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1997. A former clerk for Justice William Brennan, he’s served in private practice and at the Justice Department.
Garland, 63, was confirmed by a 76-23 vote. Obama previously considered him for the seats that ultimately went to Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
Garland’s grandparents settled in Chicago after fleeing anti-Semitism in Russia. The judge’s father ran a small business from their basement and his mother headed the local PTA and school board and directed a volunteer services agency.
After graduating summa cum laude from Harvard, which he attended on scholarship, he put himself through Harvard Law School by working as a tutor, by stocking shoes and, “in what is always a painful moment for any young man, by selling his comic book collection,” Obama said while introducing his nominee Wednesday.
The White House is positioning Garland as an experienced judge who bridges the ideological divide.
“Judge Garland has earned a track record of building consensus as a thoughtful, fair-minded judge who follows the law,” Obama said. “He’s shown a rare ability to bring together odd couples, assemble unlikely coalitions, persuade colleagues with wide-ranging judicial philosophies to sign on to his opinions.”
Garland said judges must follow the law, not make it, and set aside personal views.
“People must be confident that a judge’s decisions are determined by the law and only the law. For a judge to be worthy of such trust, he or she must be faithful to the Constitution and to the statutes passed by the Congress,” Garland said. “Fidelity to the Constitution and the law has been the cornerstone of my professional life.”
The White House stressed that Garland has more federal judicial experience than any other Supreme Court nominee in history, having served 19 years on the D.C. Circuit Court, often considered the nation’s second-most important court. It pointed out that as a federal prosecutor, Garland led the investigation into and case against Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, noting that he kept in touch with the victims and their families throughout the case and after.
Garland could hit the ground running with other justices — including Chief Justice John Roberts — who have known him for years.
If Garland succeeds in taking the seat of Justice Antonin Scalia, he might rival Scalia's extraordinary -- and at times colorful -- writing style.
Take a case concerning an endangered species listed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.
Garland's court remanded the case with instructions to dismiss it for lack of jurisdiction back in 2013 -- but not before Garland had some fun.
"This appeal concerns the straight-horned markhor, an impressive subspecies of wild goat that inhabits an arid, mountainous region of Pakistan," he wrote. " As tempting as it may be to consider the arbitrary and capricious claim in a case involving a goat, an array of justiciability problems -- mootness, ripeness and standing -- require us to decline the opportunity."
Garland is a "quintessential safe choice" from Obama, said Steve Vladeck, a law professor at American University Washington College of Law and CNN contributor.
He's known more for the cases he's prosecuted than the decisions he's handed down from the bench, Vladeck said. But as a judge, he has a reputation for centrism more than for any particular approach to judging or ideological commitments.
"He's not flashy. He doesn't have some academic theory driving his jurisprudence but decides the cases one at a time as they come before him," Vladeck said. He "tends not to go out of his way to say anything beyond the minimum necessary to decide the case."
It would be "simply impossible" for Senate Republicans to oppose Garland on the merits, Vladeck said.
"I've never met anyone with more integrity who was a straighter shooter than he was," said University of Southern California law professor Sam Erman, who clerked for Garland. "He is very smart, careful and fair."
In 2010, as the Senate looked to confirm a successor to Justice John Paul Stevens, Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch called Garland "a consensus nominee," according to the White House. On Wednesday, however, Hatch said he feels the Senate should wait until next year to consider a candidate.
Even before his name was announced, Carrie Severino of the conservative Judicial Crisis Network cautioned in the National Review that he should not be labeled as "moderate," arguing in one instance that he has a "very liberal view" of gun rights.
Also, the National Federation of Independent Business claimed that Garland "nearly always sides with regulators, labor unions and trial lawyers at the expense of small businesses," which the group called "discouraging."
U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, released the following statement following Garland's nomination:
“While I will evaluate the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland, the next president should be the one to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. President Obama has worked to ram through his liberal agenda by way of executive actions, of which many are now tied up in the courts. This has created a situation where we need to be cautious as to who will fill the vacancy left behind by Justice Scalia. It makes the current presidential election all that more important as not only are the next four years in play, but an entire generation of Americans will be impacted by the balance of the court and its rulings. Sens. Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid have all made statements that the Senate does not have to confirm presidential nominations in an election year. I will oppose this nomination as I firmly believe we must let the people decide the Supreme Court’s future.”
U.S. Senator James Lankford, R-Oklahoma, released the following statement:
“The death of Justice Antonin Scalia is an enormous loss for the Supreme Court, but more importantly for our nation. A lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court is extremely important and will shape monumental decisions that will impact America for decades. Justice Scalia’s constitutional approach to legal interpretation should be the standard for people who serve on the Highest Court in the land.
“Article 2, section 2 of the Constitution gives the President and the Senate an equal 50-50 responsibility in the process of filling a Supreme Court vacancy. The President has today fulfilled his constitutional requirement, now the Senate has an opportunity to provide 'advice and consent.’ While the Constitution says the President shall nominate judges to the Supreme Court, it does not say the Senate shall approve a nominee. Based on previous historical precedent, I support Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley’s intent to give the American people a say in Justice Scalia’s replacement this year at the ballot box.”