On Wednesday, President Obama announced his nominee to fill the seat left open by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February of this year. The official announcement of the nomination came after almost a month of Senate Republican’s insistence that they would block any nominee of Obama, wanting to wait until a Republican was in office in 2016 to choose a Conservative-leaning justice that would help keep the court balanced, or tilt it towards the right.
This nomination surprised many people, leaving them asking a very crucial question, “Who is Merrick Garland?” Here at FFL, we’re here to explain that to you, even if the Senate Republicans swear that we will never see Justice Garland sitting on the highest court in the land.
Merrick Brian Garland was raised in Chicago, much like the President, and like Obama, is a Harvard graduate, though he was faithful to the Crimson for both his undergraduate and law degrees. He was the valedictorian of his class at Harvard College and served on the Harvard Law Review during college. He previously clerked for Supreme Court Justice Brennan in the late 1970s. In his younger years, he served as a prosecutor, much like sitting Justices Alito and Sotomayor
His nomination may have come as a surprise to many who suspected the Obama would nominate someone who leaned much further to the left in his decisions than Garland, who is regarded by many as a centrist and more moderate than others. However, this was no doubt a calculated move by President Obama in the face of Senate Republicans vowing to hold a vote on no nominee, no matter their leaning. Now, Garland is the Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where he has been a sitting judge since 1997 when he was appointed by Bill Clinton and confirmed by the Senate. Coincidentally, in 1997, Senator Mitch McConnell, now the leader of the Senate Republicans, was one of the 23 senators who voted against Garland.
A possible positive for Garland comes in his answer to the role of “judicial activism” that he gave during his confirmation trial in the 1990s. He said, “Federal judges do not have roving commissions to solve societal problems. The role of the court is to apply law to the facts of the case before it, not to legislate, not to arrogate to itself the executive power, not to hand down advisory opinion on the issues of the day.”
Notably, Garland has been involved in cases involving detainees at Guantanamo Bay, which President Obama has vowed to shut down before he leaves office. In al Odah v United States, Garland was part of the majority opinion ruling that federal district courts lacked jurisdiction, under habeas corpus, over Gitmo detainees. On other matters, Garland is said to have a broader view on First Amendment rights. He does not have a lengthy record of deciding cases involving civil rights or campaign finance, which could be hot topics for the Supreme Court in the upcoming terms. Garland, in his defense, has not been involved in any major decisions that have captivated national attention or caused an uproar. This could work in his favor, or against it, depending on how you view the role of the courts.
Many critics of the Senate Republican’s vow to block any nominee worry that we will end up with a much more liberal judge than Garland if a Republican does not win the White House in 2016. Only time will tell whether Justice Garland will fill the vacancy left by Justice Scalia, and FFL will be here all the way to keep you updated on the happenings of the 2016 election, the SCOTUS debate, and more.
Header image credit: http://radioboston.wbur.org/2016/03/16/merrick-garland