President Barack Obama announced his decision today to nominate Merrick Garland to fill Scalia’s shoes, giving the oft-short-listed candidate a shot at being a justice.
Garland was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1997 as the chief judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. He was also a former clerk for Justice William Brennan, and has experience in both private practice and the Justice Department.
Garland, was confirmed by a 76-23 vote. In previous decisions, Obama had considered him as a potential justice, but the seats ultimately went to Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
As for his family history, Garland’s grandparents settled in Chicago after escaping from anti-Semitism in Russia. His father established a small business from their basement and his mother headed the local PTA and school board and directed a volunteer services agency.
Garland graduated summa cum laude from Harvard, which he attended on scholarship. He paid his way through Harvard Law School by working as a tutor, 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.
Obama has chosen Garland as the nominee for several reasons; namely his ability to approach things with an open-mind, his knack for drawing bridges between unusual pairs, and enthusiasm toward law. “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.” Furthermore, Garland has served 19 years on the D.C. Circuit Court–vastly exceeding any other nominee in the history of the supreme court–and is well-acquainted with several of the judges.
Many also note that Garland is the “safe choice” for Obama. “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,” Steve Vladeck, a law professor at American University Washington College of Law, said. He “tends not to go out of his way to say anything beyond the minimum necessary to decide the case.” It would be difficult for republicans to call his capabilities into question. However, they’ve still managed to do so.
Carrie Severino of the conservative Judicial Crisis Network warned in the National Review that Garland should not be labeled as “moderate,” arguing in one instance that he has a “very liberal view” of gun rights.
Further, 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 organization called “discouraging.”