(Photo obtained from Politico, taken by the Associated Press)
President Obama announced today his nomination of Merrick B. Garland to fill the vacancy on the court, someone he believes is “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, even-handedness and excellence.”
To provide some background, Garland has served as a federal appeals judge for the DC Circuit since 1997, a court that is widely viewed as the second-most powerful following the Supreme Court. His other qualifications include graduating with high honors from Harvard Law School, clerking for Justice William Brennan, and holding senior positions in the Justice Department. His age also makes him an ideal Obama nominee: at age 63, Garland is the oldest person nominated to the Supreme Court since Nixon’s nomination of Justice Lewis Powell in 1971.
Following the death of former Justice Antonin Scalia last month, there was considerable discussion about whether the vacancy would be filled before the end of Obama’s presidency. President Obama hoped that his nomination would be seen as a compromise: “I simply ask Republicans in the Senate to give him a fair hearing, and then an up-or-down vote. If you don’t, then it will not only be an abdication of the Senate’s constitutional duty, it will indicate a process for nominating and confirming judges that is beyond repair.”
Despite potentially disappointing from members of the Democratic Party who hope that a strictly liberal candidate would fill the ninth seat, Obama’s choice of Garland, “a well-known moderate who has drawn support over decades,” is definitely a politically strategic move. By nominating a unquestionably qualified moderate instead of a liberal, President Obama essentially dared the Republicans to obstruct the nomination process—and they did.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stated later in the day that the Senate would not consider Garland’s nomination, that it would be unnecessary to act further on this nomination, and that the Senate would revisit the matter when it considers the qualifications of the next nominee.
Adding to the awkwardness of the situation, senators in the Republican Party have praised Garland in the past. For example. in 1997, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch supported Garland’s nomination to the DC Court of Appeals, saying
“Merrick B. Garland is highly qualified to sit on the D.C. circuit. His intelligence and his scholarship cannot be question… His legal experience is equally impressive… Accordingly, I believe Mr. Garland is a fine nominee. I know him personally, I know of his integrity, I know of his legal ability, I know of his honesty, I know of his acumen, and he belongs on the court. I believe he is not only a fine nominee, but is as good as Republicans can expect from this administration. In fact, I would place him at the top of the list.”
All of this ties back into the political factors which influence the nomination process of the Supreme Court. Garland indisputably meets the legal qualifications for nomination; however, obstructionist politics have prevented perhaps one of the most reasonable nominees the Republicans could have hoped for. Looking back at vacancies in the Supreme Court during election years in the past, it is definitely not standard practice to leave a seat open until after the election. As to whether or not that happens, we’ll just have to wait and see.
Should a vacancy on the Court be a consideration for voters during an election year?
What do you think about McConnell’s response? Is it justified?