President Obama made a strong choice for the seat vacant since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February — Judge Merrick B. Garland.
Judge Garland is the chief judge of the most influential appellate court, the U.S. Court of Appeals District of Columbia Circuit, where he has served since 1997. He is considered a liberal to moderate.
The judge was born and raised in the Chicago area. He has a brilliant academic record. He received a scholarship to Harvard, where he graduated valedictorian of his class. He then earned his law degree from Harvard Law School, where he graduated magna cum laude and served on the prestigious Harvard Law Review as articles editor.
Prior to being appointed to the bench, Judge Garland was a partner in a major law firm in Washington, then became the principal deputy to the U.S. Attorney General. In that role, he prosecuted high profile, complex cases involving drug trafficking, public corruption and terrorism.
He earned a reputation as a brilliant legal mind in his investigation of the Centennial Olympic Park bombing and ultimate conviction of Eric Robert Rudolph. He also helped prosecute the Unabomber and Oklahoma City bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols (which he said was the most important work of his career). His work on these significant domestic terrorist cases won Judge Garland the praise of both Democrat and Republicans.
Judge Garland is well respected on both sides of the aisle. He was confirmed to the appellate bench on a vote of 76-23. He is a friend of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who once served on the appeals court with him. Judge Garland would be the fourth Jewish justice.
What Happens Now?
That a justice suddenly dies during his tenure on the Supreme Court is an unusual event. A vacancy on the court during an election year is almost unprecedented.
Most often, justices plan a retirement date that gives the sitting president the opportunity to vet potential replacements and gives the Senate the opportunity to confirm prior to the justice stepping down.
When Justice Scalia died last month, eight justices remained on the U.S. Supreme Court, making tied decisions likely. So the vacancy needs to be filled as soon as possible to avoid the legal limbo created by split opinions.
Now the Senate is required to vote on the nomination under the “advice and consent” power granted in Article II, Section 2, Clause 2.
Unfortunately, the vacancy has created a political fight about whether the current or next president has the right to nominate the justice. Some senators are more focused on political ideology than the nominee’s credentials, going so far as to refuse all nominees from a Democratic president. But nowhere in the Constitution is there the power to delay or refuse the nomination vote.
Senator Orrin Hatch, R-UT, was one of a group of Republican Senators who voted for Judge Hatch to be confirmed to the D.C. Circuit and said that he was well qualified when President Obama named Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court in 2010 instead.
Judge Garland is moderate, respected, and brilliant. He has deep experience on the appellate bench, as a government prosecutor, and in private practice. He is the right choice to make landmark legal decisions for our country.
Hopefully the Senate will hold a hearing and fill the vacancy based on his excellent credentials immediately, and if it votes him down, allow the president to nominate another qualified candidate so our court can continue its important business.