On February 13, 2016, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away after 30 years of service on the bench. Justice Scalia was widely renowned for his conservative political views and eloquent legal opinions. His passing left a vacanct seat at the Supreme Court, without Justice Scalia, the Supreme Court; is evenly split between four liberals and four conservatives. The Constitution tasks the President to fill that vacancy by appointing a candidate “by and with the advice and consent” of the Senate.
The media has been whirling as it awaits President Obama’s nomination in light of the President’s ongoing battle with the Republican-filled Senate’particularly because any Republicans in the Senate have vowed to block any of President Obama’s nominations. In fact, many Republicans in the Senate wish to prevent President Obama from nominating any Justice in hopes that when his term is over at the end of 2016, a new Republican President will nominate a conservative justice.
Today, March 16, 2016, President Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland, a moderate, to the U.S. Supreme Court. Many commentators agree that choosing a moderate was a way for President Obama to placate Republicans while still appealing to the Democrats. Additionally, Judge Garland, 63 years old, is older than most Supreme Court nominees. Typically, Presidents tend to pick younger justices as a way of extending the President’s legacy as Supreme Court Justices serve for life. Judge Garland’s political views play a significant role in whether the Republicans in Senate will confirm his appointment. President Obama made sure to nominate someone who was not “too liberal” so as to prevent the Senate from rejecting his nomination outright and put the Senate in a difficult position: if Republican Senators do not confirm him, their voters will view them as obstructionists; if they do, President Obama gets his nominee and fills the seat.
Judge Garland’s appointment process is likely to be hard-fought. For example, Senator Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah, who is regarded as “one of the U.S. Senate’s foremost scholars of the Constitution and the Supreme Court” once suggested that President Obama nominate “a moderate” like Judge Garland calling him “a fine man.” However, when President Obama announced Judge Garland’s nomination, Senator Hatch recanted saying, “[H]is nomination doesn’t in any way change current circumstances. I remain convinced that the best way for the Senate to do its job is to conduct the confimation process after this toxic presidential election season is over.” When speaking about the Senate’s refusal to consider any of his nominations President Obama remarked, “Our democracy will suffer… I have fulfilled my consitutional duty. Now it’s time for the Senate to do theirs. Presidents do not stop working in the final year of their term. Neither should a senator.”
Judge Garland, a Harvard law graduate, is certainly qualified to take a seat on the bench. After graduating, he clerked for Judge Henry Friendly on the Second Circuit, followed by Justice William Brennan on the Supreme Court. He then went on to become Assistant United States Attorney, followed by a career in private practice that led to a partnership at Arnold & Porter. Shortly after, Judge Garland was appointed Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice and then the Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General. One year later, in 1995, former President Clinton nominated Judge Garland to the D.C. Circuit, Court of Appeals one of the most prestigious courts in the nation.