Well if President Obama has anything to say about it, he’s your next Supreme Court Justice.
When you’re in the heart of an election season, you sometimes forget that the wheels in DC are still spinning. We were reminded of that fact this week when President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland to be Antonin Scalia’s replacement on the Supreme Court. So who’s this guy anyway? Let’s find out!
Ok, Sooo… Who’s Merrick Garland Anyway?
Merrick Garland is one of the longest tenured DC Circuit Court judges having served the higher court since 1997.
That’s Nice, but This is The SUPREME F-ING COURT! What Has He Done to Standout?
Actually quite a lot! Other than graduating (with honors) from Harvard Law, he received two prestigious clerkships – one working for Henry Friendly of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and the other for Supreme Court Justice William Brennan – as well as being Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti’s right hand man (fyi Civiletti is from the Carter administration). After working for some prestigious law firms around Washington DC, he became the assistant US attorney for DC, which he then left to work in the Justice Department during the Bill Clinton administration. Of course, this all lead to Clinton nominating Garland as a federal judge in 1995. So yeah, there are some knocks that people can make about Garland – which we’ll cover in a bit – but he is more than qualified to be a Supreme Court Justice.
Considering He’s a President Obama Nominee, Our Guess is He Must Be a Very Liberal Justice?
Actually… he’s pretty moderate. Even Republicans thought so in 1995 when Bill Clinton nominated him as a federal judge!
So Then What Are His Views?
The SCOTUS Blog did an amazing job in looking through Garland’s past cases as a Federal Court judge. Here’s a breakdown of what they found.
- On Criminal Justice: While in Federal Court, Garland is generally looked at as a liberal justice. But, in terms of criminal justice, he has a reputation of ruling less in the defendant’s favor than most other liberals on the court.
On the Environment: In multiple instances when the subject came to environmental law, he deferred to federal regulators over industry groups.
On Government Transparency: Based on rulings like the 2013 case where he ordered that the government should release information on the drone program, he’s been generally consistent on coming on the side of FOIA (Freedom of Information Act).
On Gun Rights: While you can’t call Garland a strict enforcer of gun control, there is one specific case that a GOP Congress will no doubt harp on. In DC v. Heller (where Washington, DC ruled handguns to be illegal in the city, but was overturned in the Supreme Court), Garland originally wanted to hear the case again in federal court where he thought a handgun ban was constitutional. With his general position siding more on gun control than with gun rights, it’s clear that this will be an issue with conservatives in Congress.
On Guantanamo Bay Detainees: In Al Odah v. US, Garland sided with the federal government in agreeing that Guantanamo Bay detainee, Fouzi Khalid Abdullah al Awda, was not eligible for a habeas corpus petition due to him being an enemy combatant of the US. In other words, Garland agreed that Al Odah did not have the right to challenge their detention in a federal court. This of course was later struck down by the Supreme Court, but many had criticized Garland for giving the executive branch too much power without any type of counter-check.
On Abortion: ¯_(ツ)_/¯ Both Pro-Life and Pro-Choice groups don’t know what to make about Garland, because his record doesn’t show him ruling one way or another on abortion cases. That’s why groups from both sides – like Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America – are taking a wait and see approach on supporting or opposing his nomination.
So All This Means…?
Well, that he’s a moderate-to-liberal justice. While he looks to be tough on cases dealing with criminal justice issues, for everything else, he rules like a liberal justice. Except for cases on abortion, which no one really has a good read on…
What Does the GOP Congress Think?
Their take on the whole situation:
Honestly it didn’t matter who President Obama put up for the Supreme Court vacancy seat, both Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have made it very clear that they will not confirm a nominee till the next presidential cycle, where Congressional Republicans are hoping that a conservative will be US President. As of this writing, currently this guy is who they’re waiting for…
So What Was President Obama Thinking When Nominating Merrick Garland in the First Place?
There’s two schools of thought on this. Either:
(a) He thought Garland was a moderate enough court judge that enough Republicans would get behind the nominee and accept him as the SCOTUS replacement for Antonin Scalia.
(b) He wanted to put-up someone that looked like a compromise pick, only to show that Congressional Republicans would strike down any nominee put in front of them. Even if that individual is a moderate judge like Garland.
Honestly it’s hard to say how any of this will shake out at this point. Whether they decide to confirm President Obama’s pick or not is less depended on Garland’s qualifications, and more on the current political climate in Washington.
(Photo Credit: WhiteHouse.gov)