President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, is considered by Democrats and Republicans as brilliant and eminently qualified to serve on the Supreme Court. In making his announcement, President Obama described Garland as, "someone who brings to his work a spirit of decency, modesty, integrity, even-handedness and excellence." Unfortunately, Garland's superb qualifications will not matter.
Garland is currently the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit Court. He is a native Chicagoan, and was the valedictorian of his high school class. In 1974, he was valedictorian of his Harvard class, where he graduated with an A.B. summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in social studies. He then attended Harvard Law School, graduating in 1977 with a J.D. magna cum laude. He was also a member of the Harvard Law Review. Garland served as a clerk for Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, and took a job as a federal prosecutor during President George H. W. Bush's administration.
In 1993, Garland joined the Clinton administration as deputy assistant attorney general in the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. Subsequently, he did an outstanding job supervising the Oklahoma City bombing prosecutions, the UNABOM prosecution, and the Atlanta Olympics bombing investigation. President Bill Clinton nominated Garland to the D.C. Circuit Court in 1997, and the Senate confirmed him by a 76-23 vote. The 23 no votes were cast by Republicans who were opposed to an eleventh seat on the D.C. Circuit. They included Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, who at the time said, "I have nothing against the nominee. Mr. Garland seems well qualified, and would probably make a good judge -- in some other court."
Judge Garland is generally viewed as "essentially the model, neutral judge" in his time on the D.C. Circuit. He has twice before been a finalist for open Supreme Court seats, earning praise from Republicans and Democrats. The law has been a lifelong commitment for Garland, who emotionally accepted his nomination as "the greatest honor in my life, other than Lynn agreeing to marry me 28 years ago."
In selecting Judge Garland, the president fulfilled his constitutional duty: "he shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint ... judges of the Supreme Court." The Constitution does not say a president cannot nominate a justice if he has less than a year left in his or her presidency. Nor does it say that the Senate must consider the president's nominee. However, a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll showed that 63 percent of Americans believe that the Senate should hold hearings on the president's nominee.
Shortly following the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia Senate, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell abruptly declared, "this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president." In an unprecedented move, McConnell said the Senate would not consider a nominee. In a letter published in USA Today Wednesday, McConnell wrote, "As Vice President Biden said when he was Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, 'Once the political season is under way, and it is, action on a Supreme Court nomination must be put off until after the election campaign is over.'"
Then Senator Joe Biden's remarks were delivered on the Senate floor in June of 1992, after several fierce Supreme Court fights. Biden also said he would support a future President George Bush nominee. Last month, Biden said in a statement, "Some critics say that one excerpt of my speech is evidence that I oppose filling a Supreme Court vacancy in an election year... This is not an accurate description of my views on the subject."
Nonetheless, the president, a constitutional lawyer, spent one month reviewing candidates prior to his announcement Wednesday. "At a time when our politics are so polarized," the president said Wednesday, "this is precisely the time we should play it straight." Republican Senator Orrin Hatch may have been pleasantly surprised with the president's announcement. Last week, Hatch told Newsmax, "(Obama) could easily name Merrick Garland, who is a fine man." He then added, "He probably won't do that because this appointment is about the election. So I'm pretty sure he'll name someone the [liberal Democratic base] wants." Hatch is among a handful of Republican Senators who say they will extend Garland the courtesy of a meeting.
Because Scalia was such a powerful conservative voice in this nation, Republicans are determined to block Obama from filling the position. Of course, since Obama's first day in office in 2009, Senator McConnell and Congressional Republicans have done all they can to block the president's agenda. They have exacerbated the divisions within this country, and regularly played on people's worst fears instead of their hopes and dreams. They have demonized and often disrespected President Obama. They have consistently put their political party ahead of their country. Their tactics have led to the emergence of Donald Trump. In fact, if Garland is not confirmed, the appointment could be filled by President Trump or President Hillary Clinton.
In accepting the president's nomination, a grateful Judge Garland said, "A life of public service is as much a gift to the person who serves as it is to those who he is serving." He concluded, "there can be no higher public service than serving as a member of the United States Supreme Court." That may be true, but he may never have a chance to do so.