On March 16 President Obama announced his Supreme Court Nomination of Merrick Garland, currently serving as the chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. If confirmed into SCOTUS, Garland will be filling the position left absent by the death of Antonin Scalia, whose decease triggered an unusual situation, in which a Democratic president with a Republican congress had the opportunity to appoint a Supreme Court nominee — the first time since Grover Cleveland’s presidency in the late 19th century.
Among president Obama’s other potential nominees were Ketanji Brown Jackson, Jane L. Kelly, Sri Srinivasan and Paul J. Watford. Jackson was considered likely because of her efficiency at encouraging black women to vote and potentially “alter the presidential race dramatically as well.” Meanwhile Srinivasan was considered an extremely likely nomination, thanks to his status as a moderate conservative candidate, which many believed would be necessary for a contender to earn approval into the Supreme Court. The nomination of Garland was received as a bit of an upset, especially within the Predictit market.
Born in 1952, Merrick was raised in a Jewish family in Chicago, Illinois before graduating as class valedictorian from Niles West High School, where he participated in the debate team. From there he would go on to attend and earn further titles of achievement, such as magna cum laude, and once again valedictorian, from Harvard College and subsequently, Harvard Law School.
Following his education he served as a law clerk for three years under two separate judges. After a brief excursion into private practice in which he served corporate litigation and counsel to insurance companies, Garland became an Assistant US Attorney in the District of Columbia, representing the government in cases varying from drug smuggling to public corruption.
Eventually, Garland would serve as deputy assistant attorney in the Criminal Division of the Department for Justice under the Clinton administration. Among his cases are some of the most infamous occurrences of domestic terrorism in the United States. Garland personally participated in the investigations surrounding the Oklahoma City bombings, the Unabomber and the Atlanta Olympics bombings. He was particularly involved in the OKC case, insisting that he be sent to the location of the crimes to observe the aftermath of the crime scenes.
This way he was able to better manage the investigation and ultimately prepare a stronger prosecution. Though he requested that he be allowed to lead the trial team against the defendants, he was only able to represent the government in the preliminary hearings before having to return to the Department of Justice Headquarters.
Overseeing the case from Washington, it was he that picked the team and influenced the court to seek the death penalty for the bombers. Frank Keating, the governor of Oklahoma at the time, applauded Merrick for his service to the city. “During the investigation, Merrick distinguished himself in a situation where he had to lead a highly complicated investigation and make quick decisions during critical times. Merrick Garland is an intelligent, experienced and evenhanded individual.”
After being appointed by Bill Clinton to the D.C. Circuit seat left vacant by Abner Mikva, Garland received from the Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary the highest possible rating of “unanimously well-qualified.” Confirmed in a 76-23 vote, Garland received his judicial commission in March of 1997. Here he would earn a reputation as a centrist, a “moderate liberal, with a definite pro-prosecution bent in criminal cases.”
Tom Goldstein, who publishes the SCOTUSblog, hailed him as “essentially the model, neutral judge,” adding that his opinions “avoid unnecessary, sweeping pronouncements.” Still, Garland continued his campaign against political corruption, authoring his dissent when his colleagues reversed the conviction of a local police officer who the FBI had recorded accepting bribes in a sting operation, and another when the D.C. Circuit ruled that ‘sovereign immunity’ excused the private military contractors who had conducted the illegal torture in Abu Ghrab. Concerning the first amendment, Garland’s “rulings reflect a preference for open government.” In 2013, Garland was confirmed as the chief judge of D.C. Circuit.
If confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice, Garland will be the oldest justice since 1971’s Lewis Powell, Jr. In a video promoting Garland, produced by the White House, he describes his personal life, hailing his wife as “the most honest, straightforward person you have ever met” and joking that his daughters, both Yale graduates, are “better at virtually all sports than (him).”
Calling the Supreme Court the “highest position someone who believes in the rule of law and wants to make sure the rule of law is applied fairly,” he goes on to claim that the “rule of law is what distinguishes our country from most other countries and many other countries. The people’s willingness to trust that they don’t have to take justice in their own hands, that law will treat people fairly and impartially without regard to politics or race or religion or anything else. If people trust that, we have a decent society.”