BY: NICK SAWICKI, CONTRIBUTOR
Intelligent, centrist, just, and amiable are merely some of the many possible terms one uses when describing 63 year old Merrick Garland. Born and raised in the Chicago area, Garland was gifted even from a young age. He attended Nile West High School where he assumed the leadership position of student council President, participated on the school’s debate team, and completed his high school career class valedictorian. At Harvard, Garland was valedictorian of both his undergraduate and graduate classes, successfully completing Harvard’s law school summa cum laude.
Garland held a number of esteemed positions following his graduation from Harvard, his first of which as clerk for Judge Henry Friendly of the United States Court of Appeals, followed by assistant of the United States Department of Justice’s US Attorney General. Garland was also a partner at Arnold and Porter, a private law firm in Washington D.C., for a few years before becoming assistant U.S. attorney for D.C. Following his stint as assistant U.S. attorney, Garland joined the criminal division of the Department of Justice where he famously headed the prosecution of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols following the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995, in addition to Ted Kaczynski in the Unabomber case, also in 1995.
President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the United States Supreme Court comes after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Appointed by President Reagan in 1986, Scalia served on the US Supreme court for thirty years before dying of natural causes. He was a disciplined originalist when interpreting the constitution, and was held in high regard by Republicans for his steadfast right-wing influence in the Court’s rulings. It was Scalia’s unfaltering belief that the Constitution was not a “living breathing document” as many of his fellow justices interpreted it as; but rather that the Constitution exists solely to secure the rights and freedoms of the American people, not facilitate change as a “living breathing” document would.
The death of Antonin Scalia paralleled with the 2016 presidential election is more significant than many Americans are aware of. Before Scalia’s sudden death, five Supreme Court seats were held by nominees of a Republican president, leaving the four remaining justices from past and current Democratic presidents. Scalia’s death shifts the political influence from a more conservative standing to a 50/50 split of four conservative and four liberal justices.
Republican majority leaders have made it absolutely clear that they will forgo having any hearings of Obama’s Supreme Court nominees, believing that “this decision ought to be made by the next president, whoever is elected,” according to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland is strategic in the sense that Garland is a notorious centrist, and greatly respected on both sides. Most conservatives expected President Obama to nominate an individual far left ideologically, which in part contributed to the premature outlash from conservative majority leaders prior to Obama even naming a nominee. Garland does lean slightly left when it comes to certain policy issues, but does not allow his personal beliefs outshine the intentions of the constitution.
The Republicans are foolish to play hardball with Obama in refusing to even have hearings. The Senate has a duty to perform hearings on Supreme Court nominees, regardless of their political party affiliation or odds of replacing Scalia. Failing to even have a symbolic hearing gives credence to liberal accusations that conservatives are the cause of so much gridlock in Washington, a dangerous stigma to have during an election season.
There are only three ways this Supreme Court standoff will play out. The first is if a Democrat is elected to the White House, succeeding Obama’s term. If this were to happen, a significantly more liberal justice will be nominated by the sitting president, and the senate will have very little choice but to accept the nomination (assuming the Senate is still majority republican). The second is if a Republican is elected to the White House in 2016. For Republicans, emerging victorious in the 2016 national election is the ultimate goal, ensuring that a conservative justice is named who is undoubtedly a fundamental conservative similar to the likes of Antonin Scalia. The final way that the Supreme Court vacancy could be filled is if Merrick Garland is appointed. This is perhaps the wisest decision for both Democrats and Republicans alike. Although not all Democrats are satisfied with the political standing of Garland, many believing he is not liberal enough, Garland’s appointment ensures that a conservative is not appointed. In the event that Republicans lose the 2016 national election, appointing Garland prevents someone potentially worse, in the eyes of conservatives, from serving in the high court.
Merrick Garland is more than qualified to serve on the Supreme Court, so it remains to be seen whether partisanship will yet again be the stifler of progress in America.