March 01, 2016

Merrick B. Garland is President Obama’s choice for the U.S. Supreme Court

President Obama announced March 16 that he has chosen Merrick B. Garland, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, as his nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court.

If confirmed by the Senate, the 63-year-old Garland, who has served on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals since 1997 and as chief judge since February 2013, would assume the seat left vacant as a result of the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

The president described Garland as someone “widely recognized not only as one of America’s sharpest legal minds, but someone who brings to his work a spirit of decency, modesty, integrity, evenhandedness and excellence.”

Garland’s experience includes both the private sector and government service. A magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School, he clerked for Judge Henry J. Friendly of the U.S.  Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and U.S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan Jr. He practiced law with the law firm of Arnold Porter and soon after making partner chose to return to public service as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. He later served in the Justice Department as principal deputy attorney general, where his responsibilities included supervising the Oklahoma City bombing and UNABOM prosecutions. Garland was appointed to the D.C. Circuit following a Senate confirmation vote of 76-23 in March 1997.

“Trust that justice will be done in our courts without prejudice or partisanship is what, in large part, distinguishes this country from others,” Garland said at the ceremony announcing his nomination. “For a judge to be worthy of such trust, he or she must be faithful to the Constitution and to the statutes passed by the Congress. He or she must put aside personal views or preferences, and follow the law − not make it,” he said.

The president announced his selection of Garland as Senate Republicans continue to refuse to consider any Supreme Court nominee during this election year, maintaining that the selection should be made by the next president so the “American people have a voice” in the decision.

“It is the president’s constitutional right to nominate a Supreme Court justice and it is the Senate’s constitutional right to act as a check on a president and withhold its consent,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said following the announcement. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and all 11 Republican members of the committee have stated their intention that there will be no hearings held on any nominee until after a new president takes office next year.

President Obama emphasized that he is fulfilling his constitutional duty and that his nominee “deserves a fair hearing and an up-or-down vote.” 

“Our Supreme Court is unique,” the president said. “It is supposed to be above politics. Let’s keep it that way,”

In a statement issued soon after the nomination announcement, ABA President Paulette Brown highlighted ABA policies that urge the president and the Senate to fulfill their constitutional responsibilities in the Supreme Court nomination process. “As the national representative of the legal profession, it is important for us to reiterate our longstanding guidelines and urge the Senate to adhere to the Constitution without regard to political preference.” Brown said.

She said that for the Supreme Court to be fully effective and to ensure the highest level of access to justice, there needs to be a full complement of nine justices. “While the court will continue to function, any 4-4 decisions will not establish precedent and will leave open questions on issues that are vital to the lives of everyday people,” she stated.

Brown also recognized the important role of the ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, which will once again fulfill its function to undertake an extensive peer review of the professional qualifications of the nominee (see page 5 for a detailed description of the standing committee’s evaluation process for Supreme Court nominees).

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