President Barack Obama’s decision to nominate Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court Wednesday morning means that at long last, the oft-short-listed candidate finally gets his shot.
Garland is the chief judge for the Washington, D.C. appeals court, appointed by President Bill Clinton. A former clerk for Justice William Brennan, he’s served in private practice and at the Justice Department.
A Chicago native, Garland, 63, is a graduate of Harvard and Harvard Law School. He was confirmed by a 76-23 vote after being nominated by Clinton in 1997. Obama considered him for the seats that ultimately went to Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
Garland’s supporters argue he is the nominee that the senators couldn’t refuse even in a contentious environment.
“He’s the establishment of the establishment,” said one supporter, adding that as a government lawyer he supervised the investigations in the Unabomber case and the Oklahoma City bombing.
In confirming its intent to nominate Garland, the White House positioned him as an experienced judge and a consensus builder.
“He has cultivated a reputation as a brilliant, meticulous judge with a knack for building consensus, playing it straight and deciding every case based on what the law requires,” according to a White House official.
The White House stressed that Garland has more federal judicial experience than any other Supreme Court nominee in history, having served 19 years on the D.C. Circuit Court, often considered the nation’s second-most important court. It pointed out that Garland led the investigation into and prosecution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, noting that the judge kept in touch with the victims and their families throughout the case and after.
Garland could hit the ground running with other justices — including Chief Justice John Roberts — who have known him for years.
Also, in 2010, as the Senate looked to confirm a successor to Justice John Paul Stevens, Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch called Garland “a consensus nominee,” according to the White House.
“I’ve never met anyone with more integrity who was a straighter shooter than he was,” said Sam Erman, law professor at the University of Southern California, who clerked for Garland. “He is very smart, careful and fair. He is careful smart and fair jurist.”
However, even before his name was announced, Carrie Severino of the conservative Judicial Crisis Network cautioned in the National Review that he should not be labeled as “moderate” arguing in one instance that he has a “very liberal view” of gun rights.