What to Know About Merrick Garland, Obama’s (Probably Doomed) Nominee to the Supreme Court

Justice Merrick Garland? Photo: U.S. Court of Appeals District of Columbia Circuit

Barack Obama nominated 63-year-old appeals-court judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court Wednesday morning. Garland is widely viewed as a moderate — one Republican senator Orrin Hatch once described him as a “fine man” and a “consensus nominee” for the Supreme Court. Obama’s decision to appoint a centrist 60-something may be a bid to win over the Senate’s intransigent Republicans — more likely, it’s an acknowledgement that such persuasion is impossible.

Garland makes for a good sacrificial lamb. The Republicans’ vow not to hold hearings on any Obama nominee will look especially unreasonable with a nominee as qualified and mainstream as Garland. And, unlike moderate circuit-court judge Sri Srinivasan, Garland is unlikely to inspire calls for renomination. Srinivasan would be the first Asian-American on the High Court; Garland would be the millionth older white guy. Thus, Garland would be unlikely to inspire any grassroots movement that might prevent Hillary Clinton from selecting the justice of her choice in 2017.

In his remarks in the Rose Garden Wednesday morning, the president implored Senate Republicans to allow Garland a confirmation hearing and then an “up or down” (read: fillibuster-free) vote — for the Constitution’s sake.

“It is tempting to make this confirmation process simply an extension of our divided politics,” Obama said. “But to go down that path would be wrong. It would be a betrayal of our best traditions. And a betrayal of the vision of our founding documents.”

Illinois senator Mark Kirk — a blue-state Republican facing a tough reelection fight this autumn — heeded Obama’s call.

Garland is the chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. He began his career clerking for Justice William Brennan, worked as a partner in the multinational law firm Arnold & Porter, and held senior positions in the Justice Department. In 1995, Garland coordinated the department’s response to the Oklahoma City bombing.

Garland spoke of his visit to the bombing site in his emotional acceptance speech.

According to Ian Millhiser of ThinkProgress, Garland would “likely vote much more often than not with the Supreme Court’s liberals, while occasionally casting a heterodox vote.” Garland appears the least liberal on matters of criminal justice — in fact, he may actually be “to the right” of the quasi-libertarian he’s replacing on such issues. In 2003, he joined an opinion that effectively prohibited Guantánamo Bay detainees from seeking justice in civilian courts.

While progressives and conservatives argue about whether Garland is too liberal or too moderate, others on Twitter can’t decide if his name sounds more like a pricey menu item or a fantasy-novel protagonist.

What to Know About Obama’s SCOTUS Nominee