Why Obama Nominated Merrick Garland To The Supreme Court
Merrick Garland is President Obama’s nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. Garland is from Skokie, Illinois, went to Harvard Law School and serves as the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
A centrist, Garland went through a long Senate battle in the 1990s to win confirmation to the appeals court. Here & Now’s Robin Young speaks with Emily Bazelon, a journalist and research fellow at Yale University, for some insight on Garland.
Interview Highlights: Emily Bazelon
On Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland
“I think it’s a nomination designed to put pressure on the Republicans. Obama could not have picked a more conciliatory compromise kind of nominee. This is someone with a long history as a prosecutor, a judge on the D.C. Circuit, who has differentiated himself from his liberal colleagues, taken more centrist or conservative positions in number of cases. It is not a pick that I think is going to galvanize the left and get the left really excited. I see already on my Twitter feed skepticism about Garland’s record, particularly in criminal defense issues. The fact that he’s a 63-year-old white man also I think takes away from the historic nature of Obama’s previous picks, Elena Kagan and Sonja Sotomayor.”
Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch has said very nice things about Merrick Garland.
“That’s right, and so Obama puts pressure on them by making them seem like hypocrites. If Judge Garland was such a great guy a few years ago, what’s wrong with him now and why can’t he at least have a hearing and go through the traditional nomination process, which the Republicans have said they are going to refuse to do. That is the play here. Whether it will really change the political calculus remains to be seen.”
What do you think his chances are of getting hearings on Capitol Hill?
“It will be hard for Republicans to walk back their adamant expressions of ‘no, no, we are not going to go through with this nomination.’ They have been extremely firm on that point and polls have already shown that two-thirds of the American people think that Obama’s nominee should be able to go through the regular hearing process. That does not so far seem to be moving the Republicans, and of course connected to all of this is this very wild Republican presidential primary race which has thrown the party into turmoil on another front. So the question here, one question is whether Republican senators who are up for election in blue states, and there are seven of those senators, are going to be at risk if they refuse to entertain this nomination, and if that will somehow change what Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been saying about refusing to participate in this nomination.”
What is the next step in the process and how long will it take before it is known if Garland will be seriously considered as a nominee?
“Normally the next process is you go around, you shake hands with everyone in the Senate, and then they schedule hearings. That is what has happened every other Supreme Court nomination in my lifetime. This time the Republicans say that it’s not even clear they’re willing to meet the president’s choice, let him into their offices and they have said there will be no hearings. So we don’t have a script. Will the Republicans, will some of them open their doors? If they don’t, Charles Grassley, the senator in charge of the Judiciary Committee, really refuses to have hearings, then will the Democrats somehow try to hold their own mock hearings to give Judge Garland a way to be questioned and get out in front of the American people?”
If Garland is confirmed, how will that affect the balance of the court?
“It would be a different court than with Scalia, for sure. Judge Garland would probably become the swing voter, just based on his record on the D.C. Circuit. He’s not a strident liberal by any means, and he likes to decide cases on narrow grounds. So we might see the left moving over a little to the middle to try to make sure they get his vote, I think he would be much more voting on the court’s liberal wings, certainly than Justice Scalia. So in that sense the court would move left, but it would not move left in some dramatic, passionate, and exuberant way.”
- Emily Bazelon, staff writer for The New York Times Magazine. At Yale Law School, she is a senior research scholar in law, a lecturer in law, and a fellow for creative writing and law. She tweets @emilybazelon.
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