The ninth Supreme Court justice could determine the fate of reproductive rights for millions of American women -- but Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama's nominee to fill the vacancy on the court, has not specified where he stands on abortion or whether he would uphold the decision made in the landmark abortion rights case Roe v. Wade.
Garland, a relatively moderate federal appeals judge in Washington, D.C., has never decided a case that has clarified his views on the subject. As USA Today pointed out on Wednesday, "During 19 years at the D.C. Circuit, Garland has managed to keep a low profile. The court's largely administrative docket has left him without known positions on issues such as abortion or the death penalty."
Garland's low profile and bipartisan appeal make him a strategic pick for Obama. The president is trying to get the Republican-controlled Senate to confirm his nominee, even though party leaders have made it clear that they will not give due process to anyone Obama nominates.
Reproductive rights advocates are insisting that the Senate have a hearing for Garland -- if only so that they can learn more about his position on legal abortion.
"This year, monumental cases will be decided by the Court on abortion access specifically and reproductive rights generally," Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a statement. "Judge Garland does not have a public record on reproductive rights and Senate Republicans’ obstruction denies all of us our right to know where this nominee stands on core constitutional questions of women's privacy, dignity, and equality."
Earlier this month, the eight current Supreme Court justices heard oral arguments in Whole Woman's Health vs. Hellerstedt -- a case that will determine the extent to which states can chip away at abortion access by regulating clinics out of existence. The high court is likely to take up more cases pertaining to reproductive rights in the coming years, as conservative states continue to pass unprecedented amounts of restrictions that challenge Roe v. Wade.
Before Justice Antonin Scalia died in February, the court was fairly balanced between liberals and conservatives on abortion. Garland's nomination could potentially tip the court in favor of abortion rights, if that's where he stands.
Anti-abortion groups stand with Republicans in their staunch opposition to Obama nominating a justice. But most reproductive rights advocates seem to trust the president to know what he's doing with this pick, despite Garland's murky views on the issue most important to them.
"Judge Garland seems like a responsible and qualified nominee. There’s a lot that we don’t know about his judicial approach, and that’s why the Senate needs to do its job and hold a fair hearing and up or down vote," said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
"A hearing is the American people's chance to learn more about Judge Garland, his qualifications and his judicial temperament," she added. "The President has done his constitutional duty, and now it’s time for the Senate to do theirs."