Lawrence Goldstone writes: With his nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to fill Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat, President Barack Obama has made clear the tone he wishes to strike with the nation. He faced a difficult choice: whether to nominate an eminently qualified liberal or an eminently qualified moderate. In opting for the latter, Obama has eschewed the standard Republican strategy of aiming every policy decision at the party’s most extreme faction, and instead sought to nominate a justice whom large swathes of both parties will see as appropriate to the high bench.
Garland, the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, is man whose academic, personal, and judicial credentials are such that Senator Orrin Hatch said just last week that the president “could easily name Merrick Garland, who is a fine man” to fill the seat, but “he probably won’t do that because this appointment is about the election, so I’m pretty sure he’ll name someone the [liberal Democratic base] wants.” In what is certain to cause Hatch to shift uncomfortably in his Judiciary Committee seat, Obama did precisely what the senator suggested and nominated an appellate court judge who has been lauded for a measured, non-ideological approach to the law.
Far more interesting, however, than Obama’s opening move is how Republicans will respond. Even before Scalia was buried, Republican Senate leaders announced that they would refuse to consider an Obama nominee. In choosing to strike preemptively, they locked themselves into a strategy that is somewhere between questionable and idiotic, and just may be the coup de grace to their political party, which now seems likely to be led by Donald Trump. [Continue reading…]
Garrett Epps writes: There are two possible interpretations of the president’s Garland strategy. The first is that Obama is playing on Republican fears of whomever a President Hillary Clinton might tap for the role and is trying to lure the Republicans into confirming an older, more moderate nominee. If they are successfully lured, then mission accomplished. If, however, Obama does not lure Republicans into confirming Garland, he will have at least embarrassed them and exposed the nakedly political nature of their tantrum.
The second interpretation — which I incline to — is that the meritocratic Boy Scout in Obama has called this shot. Garland is a terrific nominee and would make a wonderful justice. As Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute said Wednesday morning, Obama almost certainly made the pick “because he thought this was the best possible choice for the Supreme Court.” Obama might be unwilling to pass up a chance to make such an appointment, and to the extent there is political calculation behind it, the president is banking on the residual idealism of some Republican senators to respond. He may believe there is at least some chance Garland will be confirmed. If so, his belief in that reservoir of public spirit is a testament both to his own generosity and to his persisting naïveté.
Of course, the idea that Garland, at 63, is an older nominee who would serve a shorter time on the Court and pose less danger to the conservative legal agenda assumes facts not in evidence. Almost exactly a century ago, another Democrat named a Jewish nominee in an election year. The nomination was deeply controversial, and the Senate delayed hearings and a vote for four months — still a record for delay. The nominee was Louis D. Brandeis. He was 59 years old. Nearly a quarter-century later, at 82, he retired as perhaps the most influential liberal justice in American history. [Continue reading…]
Jay Michaelson writes: I was one of Judge Garland’s law clerks in his second year on the D.C. Circuit bench, back in 1998. Perhaps it sounds self-serving to say so, but Judge Garland is one of the hardest working, fairest-minded people I’ve ever met. He worked harder than any of us, staying late into the night, sometimes cutting out of the office to make time for his kids before coming back in for the midnight shift. Watching him stand alongside President Obama this morning filled me with respect and pride — in the moments when I could forget the disrespect he is soon to endure.
I also had some firsthand exposure to how he thinks. There was not a single case I worked on with him, from the most mundane Federal Energy Regulation Commission matter to a 20-plus-year-old civil rights case, in which politics played into his considerations. Conscience, sure — Judge Garland often reminded me that there were human beings on both sides of these contentious cases — but never ideology.
Not all judges on the D.C. Circuit were of that persuasion. I was friends with clerks for other judges, and some (whom, of course, I won’t name) would simply tell their clerks how they wanted the case to come out, leaving the clerks to get from point A to point B. That was never my experience with Judge Garland. [Continue reading…]