Garland Nominated to Fill Supreme Court Vacancy

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By Kimberly Robinson

March 16 — President Barack Obama nominated Merrick B. Garland, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, to the U.S. Supreme Court March 16.

If confirmed, Garland would fill the vacancy left by Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last month after nearly 30 years on the bench.

At 63 years old, Garland is unlikely to serve as long as his predecessor. The potential for a short tenure may be a concession to Senate Republicans, who have vowed not to hold hearings for any Obama nomination .

However, when “Obama considered Garland for a high court vacancy in 2010, Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, called the judge ‘terrific' and said he could be confirmed to the Supreme Court ‘virtually unanimously,' ” according to Bloomberg Politics.

Play It Straight

Obama urged Senate Republicans to give Garland a fair hearing and an up-or-down vote while announcing Garland's nomination from the White House Rose Garden.

He acknowledged that partisan politics had played a role in Supreme Court confirmations in the past, but said to go down that path now would be wrong. This is precisely the time to play it straight, Obama said.

It would inevitably harm the reputation of the Supreme Court, the justice system and our democracy, Obama said.

But in statements following Obama's announcement, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) didn't seemed swayed.

Grassley's office said he spoke with Garland in a call March 16 where he congratulated the judge and reiterated the position of the Senate majority, that it will give the American people a voice and an opportunity this year to debate the role of the Supreme Court in our system of government. Grassley will reiterate the position again if an in-person meeting is scheduled, his office said.

“A lifetime appointment that could dramatically impact individual freedoms and change the direction of the court for at least a generation is too important to get bogged down in politics,” Grassley said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) echoed that sentiment. “The Senate will appropriately revisit the matter when it considers the qualifications of the nominee the next President nominates, whoever that might be,” McConnell said in a statement.

Administration Expects Confirmation

Nevertheless, the administration expects Garland to be confirmed in this Congress, said Brian Deese, Senior Advisor to the President, during a conference call March 16.

Eric Schultz, Obama's Principal Deputy Press Secretary, noted that there are still about 300 days left in this Congress.

Since 1975, the average time from nomination to confirmation is 67 days, Schultz said. The longest time in the past several decades was 99 days, he said.

Schultz noted that there has already been movement from some Senate Republicans on the confirmation process.

Just a couple of weeks ago, all Senate Republicans said they would refuse to even meet with the President's nominee, Schultz said. Already a handful of Senate Republicans have said they will, in fact, meet with Garland.

Crack the Republican Line

The White House probably nominated Garland thinking he would be the best person to crack the Republican line, said Ed Whelan, currently of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and former counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee, during a separate conference call March 16.

But there isn't a “dime of difference” between a moderate liberal and a liberal when it comes to the major issues, Whelan said.

Garland would be a reliable liberal vote on the Supreme Court, Carrie Severino of the Judicial Crisis Network said during the call.

She noted that Obama would only appoint someone who would cement his legacy at the Supreme Court.

Garland would likely roll back Second Amendment protections and green light federal gun regulations, she said.

Severino pointed to Garland's vote to rehear a landmark case striking down Washington D.C.'s gun laws in Parker v. District of Columbia, 2007 BL 14 (D.C. Cir. May 8, 2007) (petition for rehearing en banc denied). The Supreme Court went on to affirm the D.C. Circuit, saying that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to possess a firearm for self-defense within the home in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008).

Severino also said that Garland appears to be on board with giving “unelected bureaucrats” a free pass to rewrite laws. Garland has a long history of deferring to administrative agencies, Severino said, especially the Environmental Protection Agency.

She noted that the Supreme Court will consider a challenge to the Obama administration's deferred action immigration programs this term in United States v. Texas, U.S., No. 15-674, to be argued 4/18/16.

And while the D.C. Circuit doesn't get many abortion cases, Severino said it's not plausible that Obama would appoint someone who would strike down the court's abortion protections. Garland's clerkship with Justice William J. Brennan Jr. is telling on this point, Severino said. Brennan joined the court's majority in the landmark abortion case Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973).

Consensus Nominee

But during the Rose Garden ceremony, Obama emphasized that Garland was confirmed to the D.C. Circuit in 1997 with overwhelming bipartisan praise.

In his 19 years on the D.C. Circuit, Garland has demonstrated an unwavering regard for the rule of law, Obama said. He has a track record of building consensus and bringing together odd-couples, Obama added.

Additionally, Garland is someone who understands that justice is more than just an abstract legal theory, Obama said. His life experience—in particular his investigation and prosecution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh—demonstrates his grasp of the way law affects the daily reality of people's lives in a big, complicated democracy, Obama said.

Greatest Honor

Garland, who was emotional during his remarks, said his nomination was the greatest honor he'd received, except when his wife agreed to marry him.

He said his family was mostly responsible for his success, noting that his mother directed a volunteer services agency in Chicago and his father ran the “smallest of small businesses” out of the family basement.

They were the ones that instilled a sense of public service in Garland, which he hopes to continue on the country's highest court, he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kimberly Robinson in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at