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Obama nominates Merrick Garland as next Supreme Court Justice

GarlandPresident Barack Obama’s choice to fill the open slot on the U.S. Supreme Court is 63-year-old Merrick Garland, currently Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

The President made his announcement this morning from the Rose Garden, setting off a battle with Republicans in the U.S. Senate, most of whom have vowed to block any of Obama’s nominees, arguing that the selection to replace deceased Justice Antonin Scalia should be left to the next president.

Here’s Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican from Arizona who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee just this morning:

lee

Garland is described as a centrist judge, likely selected by the President as the most confirmable by the Senate of those being vetted for the high court seat.

He has been battle-tested, having survived a long political fight on the road to confirmation in the mid-1990s, when Republican Senator Charles E. Grassley took the position that a vacancy should not be filled, according to the New York Times:

Judge Garland is often described as brilliant and, at 63, is somewhat aged for a Supreme Court nominee. He is two years older than Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who has been with the court for more than 10 years. The two served together on the appeals court and are said to be friends.

Here’s more on Garland from Think Progress:

Chief Judge Merrick Garland of the DC Circuit is the sort of nominee that Obama and Senate Republicans might agree to elevate to the Supreme Court as a compromise, if compromise is actually possible with the current Senate majority. Garland, who President Clinton appointed to the DC Circuit in 1997, is far and away the oldest candidate among the four the White House is reportedly vetting — he’s 63. In nearly two decades on the bench, Garland has also built a fairly centrist record.

Garland’s resume is laden with the kind of credentials that make mere mortal attorneys droll with envy — including a clerkship for Supreme Court Justice William Brennan and a senior Justice Department job prior to Garland’s elevation to the bench. On most issues, moreover, is is likely that Garland would side with the Supreme Court’s liberal bloc in divided cases.

Nevertheless, there are a few areas where his instincts appear more conservative. In 2003, Garland joined an opinion holding that the federal judiciary lacks the authority, “to assert habeas corpus jurisdiction at the behest of an alien held at a military base leased from another nation, a military base outside the sovereignty of the United States,” effectively prohibiting Guantanamo Bay detainees from seeking relief in civilian courts. The Supreme Court reversed this decision a little over a year later in Rasul v. Bush. (Though, it is worth noting that legal experts disagree about whether the result Garland supported was compelled by then-existing precedents.)

Garland also appears to have relatively conservative instincts in criminal justice cases. According to a 2010 examination of Garland’s decision by SCOTUSBlog’s Thomas Goldstein, “Judge Garland rarely votes in favor of criminal defendants’ appeals of their convictions.” Goldstein “identified only eight such published rulings,” as well as an additional seven where “he voted to reverse the defendant’s sentence in whole or in part, or to permit the defendant to raise a argument relating to sentencing on remand,” during the 13 years Garland had then spent as a federal judge.

The next step toward Garland’s appointment should be hearings before the Judiciary Committee, but if Republicans there have their way, those hearings will be a long way off — if they happen at all.

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