Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee for a pivotal position on the Supreme Court, is an experienced adjudicator with a reputation as a centrist.
Garland, 63, is a 19-year veteran of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Since 2013, Garland has been the court’s chief judge.
If confirmed, he would replace conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last month. Republicans have repeatedly argued that given the importance of the appointment, no nominee should be considered until after the presidential election.
Garland was confirmed to the D.C. court in a 76-23 Senate vote in 1997 in which 30 Republicans voted to confirm him. Twenty-three Republicans voted against the confirmation.
The strong GOP vote, and Garland’s two decades of experience, could help the White House make the argument that Obama has nominated a centrist, experienced judge well qualified to serve on the nation’s high court.
As recently as last week, Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchLobbying world Congress, stop holding 'Dreamers' hostage Drug prices are declining amid inflation fears MORE (Utah), who voted for Garland in 1997, called him a “fine man” when speaking to a reporter from Newsmax.
At the same time, the fact that the vote on Garland took place nearly 20 years ago means relatively few GOP senators who backed him remain in the Senate. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles GrassleyChuck GrassleyAnother voice of reason retires Overnight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — FDA moves to sell hearing aids over-the-counter McConnell: GOP should focus on future, not 'rehash' 2020 MORE (Iowa) and Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden says he's open to altering, eliminating filibuster to advance voting rights Pelosi says GOP senators 'voted to aid and abet' voter suppression for blocking revised elections bill Manchin insists he hasn't threatened to leave Democrats MORE (Ky.) are among the Republicans who opposed him.
Garland was born in Chicago and attended Harvard College and Harvard Law School, graduating with honors in 1977. He would be the fourth Jewish justice on the court if he is confirmed and the fifth to attend Harvard Law School.
After clerking for Judge Henry Friendly of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and Supreme Court Justice William Brennan from 1979 to 1981, Garland served as a special assistant to the U.S. Attorney General, a position Justice Samuel Alito also held.
He spent some time in the public sector as well, working as a partner at Arnold & Porter, a D.C. based firm that specialized in corporate and anti-trust law.
Garland would be the third sitting justice with prosecutorial experience, joining Alito and Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Tom Goldstein, publisher of SCOTUSblog, noted in a post on Wednesday.
Garland has a centrist reputation as a jurist and a long paper trail.
He voted in 2007 to reverse a Washington, D.C., court decision striking down a ban on the possession of handguns, which gun rights groups have raised to criticize his nomination.
She argued his confirmation could threaten Scalia’s decision on D.C. v. Heller, a case that affirmed the Second Amendment and a person’s right to keep and bear arms.
Lincoln Caplan, a senior research scholar at Yale Law School, argued that Garland was a “wise choice” by pointing to a July decision upholding a federal ban on federal contractors making campaign contributions.
Caplan in an op-ed for The New Yorker said that Garland’s narrow opinion resembles those that helped make Louis Brandeis an esteemed Justice a century ago.
“In its deference to legislative history and to Congress, the opinion is also a model of judicial restraint,” he said. “It shows that, as Obama wrote, on SCOTUSblog, in February about his impending choice, Garland is 'someone who recognizes the limits of the judiciary’s role; who understands that a judge’s job is to interpret the law, not make the law.'"
Since the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals mostly handles regulatory challenges, Garland had not had much of an opportunity to weigh in on social issues such as abortion or the death penalty, Goldstein noted.
He does have a history of siding with federal agencies.
Goldstein referenced several cases, including Garland’s 2009 dissent in FedEx Home Delivery v. the National Labor Relations Board, a case in which the court ruled to overturn NLRB’s designation of workers as employees rather than contractors.
Garland has also backed regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency. Goldstein noted his majority opinion for the D.C. court in Rancho Viejo v. Norton, a 2003 ruling in which the court upheld the government's application of the Endangered Species Act in protecting the arroyo toad.
While the liberal Center for American Progress (CAP) has yet to carefully review Garland’s record, it expressed confidence that Garland would move the court in a better direction.
“It is important to note both who Garland is replacing,” said Michele Jowando, CAP’s vice president for legal progress. “He’s replacing Scalia, who has authored or written incredible strong dissents that have gone in opposite direction from CAP’s positions on voting rights and the Affordable Care Act. There’s no doubt in my mind that Justice Garland is someone during his time on D.C. circuit who has worked to force a consensus on a host of different issues and that he will continue to do some on the Supreme Court.”
The fact that Garland has little record to show his stance on issues such as equality, reproductive rights and criminal justice reform is why the National LGBT Task Force says it is pushing GOP lawmakers to hold a confirmation hearing.
“It would give us an opportunity to put forward questions on his views on these various issues,” said Stacey Long Simmons, director of public policy and government affairs at the task force.
Despite his reputation as a moderate, Long Simmons said she’s not overly concerned that Garland could end up being more conservative than the LGBT community would like.
“As you know, we have had a phenomenal LGBT rights movement where conservatives have voted favorably on our issues,” she said. “So the fact that he’s being described a moderate would not give us pause. We need to take the time to review his record and have a hearing where he has an opportunity to directly respond to those questions.”
The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has praised Garland for his record of protecting “regular Americans, and our democracy, from being corrupted by the excesses of the super wealthy and their corporate agenda.”
When it comes to campaign finance, however, Garland’s record, is somewhat muddled. He sided with the majority in a ruling in 2009 that upheld lobbying disclosures in a case known as the National Association of Manufacturers v. Taylor.
But in SpeechNow.org v. FEC in 2010, he sided with a unanimous court in striking down federal limits on contributions to independent political groups. The case extended the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, which allowed corporations to spend freely on politics from their general treasuries.
Regardless of his judicial record, Garland’s age may be cause for concern for some.
Ian Millhiser, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and editor of ThinkProgress Justice, said that, at 63, Garland is the oldest person nominated to the Supreme Court since President Nixon named Justice Lewis Powell in 1971.
If confirmed, Millhiser said it would be unlikely for Garland to match Scalia’s 30-year tenure on the court.
— Last updated at 4:12 p.m.