Introducing Obama’s SCOTUS Pick: Merrick Garland
Mary von Aue
When President Obama announced Merrick Garland as his SCOTUS pick, he asked us not to treat Garland as a “political piñata.” Sure, the name “Merrick Garland” probably didn’t help in middle school, but we wouldn’t beat up on a guy that we didn’t even know. So before the Senate swipes left on Garland’s looks, let’s get to know him better:
First impressions can be deceiving, but it’s hard to believe Garland is anything but a teddy bear when he showed so much emotion while accepting the nomination. SCOTUS is known for its stoicism, and a teary-eyed Garland gushing that this was “the greatest honor” paints a different picture. His track record also supports that personable and invested image. When Garland led the investigation and ultimately the case against Oklahoma City Bomber Timothy McVeigh, he purportedly kept in touch with many of the victims’ families both during the case and after.So, why Merrick Garland? With more federal judicial experience than any other Supreme Court nominee in history, the credentials are certainly there. Judge Garland has served 19 years on the DC Circuit Court, and, as President Obama pointed out, “has 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 was confirmed to the court in 1997 with a bipartisan 76-23 vote, boasting a rare likability from both sides. And what’s not to like? As the grandson of working class immigrants fleeing anti-Semitism, he graduated Harvard on a scholarship and stocked shoes to put himself through law school. His humble upbringing is evident in his courtroom manner. “He’s not flashy,” Steve Vladeck, a law professor at American University told CNN. “[He] tends not to go out of his way to say anything beyond the minimum necessary to decide the case.” His reputation as a moderate who sticks to the basics has earned him both Republican and Democratic admirers. Why now? Obama previously considered Garland for the seats that ultimately went to Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, two Justices less known for centrism and confirmed by a Democrat majority. It’s obvious that Merrick Garland’s bipartisan fanbase is what snagged him the nomination this time around. He’s a safe choice: he’s older and whiter than the other candidates rumored to be on Obama’s shortlist and a guy so moderate and likable, he’s almost boring. It’s a clear attempt to pressure Senate Republicans, especially those who will be facing tough battles for reelection, to peel away from Republican leadership and actually confirm a new justice. With Obama around for another 10 months, the Senate has plenty of time to, you know, do their job. Garland makes for a perfect olive branch. Back in 2010, when the Senate searched for a successor to Justice John Paul Stevens, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch called Garland a “consensus nominee.” He’s already celebrated among Republicans, so if there is a nominee that would get confirmed under Obama’s last months, it’s Garland. Will it work? Probably not. Despite singing Garland’s praises in 2010, Senator Hatch is singing a much different tune now. On Wednesday, he said he feels the Senate should wait until next year to consider a candidate, echoing a steadfast consensus among his Republican colleagues. Some right-wing senators are even saying they do not plan to have hearings on Garland, let alone vote on his nomination. Senator Pat Roberts, a guy who voted for Garland in 1997, told CNN he wouldn’t back the judge this time, noting it had nothing to do with the likable Merrick and everything to do with the guy nominating him. “It’s not about the person, it’s about the process,” and by process he means vetting and voting on the SCOTUS nomination. You know, his job. Despite Democrats in the Senate actively trying to recruit Republicans to consider the nomination (they even created a twitter handle @SCOTUSnom to help us get to know him!), most seem to be siding with Senate Majority Leader Mitchell McConnell’s vow to never let Obama get another SCOTUS on the bench. Then, why bother? There’s a reason why people are throwing around the word “piñata” when describing Merrick Garland. He might never be considered by the Republicans, but that might be the point. Had this been Obama’s nomination in previous years, liberals would have been annoyed by Garland’s occasional conservative streak. If Republicans are too stubborn to consider a bipartisan pick like Garland, it not only exposes them to the accusation that they fail to do their job at the behest of party politics, but it also will make them look so unreasonable, it could hurt them at the polls in November. Either the conservatives come to their senses and confirm a moderate while they have a chance, or stick to a “vow” so seemingly childish that they lose the majority come elections. Moreover, if Republicans are too proud to confirm Garland, they’ll most likely deal with a younger, more liberal appointee under Hillary Clinton, or a total wild card under Donald Trump. Obama is essentially calling their bluff, and they should probably take the bait. Follow Mary on Twitter.