Unlucky Garland: Middle-of-the-road pick unlikely to satisfy anyone


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Phil Brown

When President Obama announced his pick to replace the late Antonin Scalia in the auspicious ranks of the Supreme Court, the vacancy had already become a political bone of contention. Republicans had vowed to block whatever nominee Obama might hope to make, and Democrats responded with high indignation. The spot is crucial, of course, and could swing the judiciary one way or the other for decades to come. Understandable, then, if not Constitutional, that the Republicans would try to block the nomination.

On March 16, Obama announced that Merrick Garland would be his Supreme Court nominee.

Garland, a Harvard Law graduate and US Court of Appeals’ Washington D.C. Circuit judge, as many of the current Supreme Court justices have been. Garland has long been in the queue for the job, having been considered twice before this March’s formal announcement. In 2009 and 2010, Garland was carefully evaluated by the Obama administration, but both times was passed over. Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, respectively, won the favor. Now it seems Garland’s time has finally come, although it will be smothered in it’s infancy if the Republican-majority Senate has anything to do with it.

All of which seems like a waste. Garland is a profoundly centrist justice, a pick intended to be so uncontroversial that it’s difficult to muster any enthusiasm for him. And Garland’s very unobjectionable-ness will make the forthcoming political battle over his nomination seem utterly pointless.

Obama’s nomination of Garland is very conservative in that it’s a deliberate pandering to the Republican-controlled Senate. Instead of selecting another woman or person of color, the President chose to pick yet another white man and further extend the Harvard hegemony. And when it comes to crucial areas of reform, progressives will be disappointed in Garland.

As a former prosecutor himself, Garland leans towards the prosecution in cases of criminal justice, meaning those hoping for crucial criminal justice reform will likely be sorely disappointed. And Garland headed a judiciary panel that failed to hold notorious Texas judge Edith Jones accountable for comments she made suggesting that persons of color are “predisposed to crime” and “prone” to
violence. Those hoping for a justice more sympathetic to civil rights issues would have been better served with a more imaginative nomination.

For conservatives, there are also complaints against Garland. Obama’s pick, as a member of another judiciary committee, voted in support of Washington D.C.’s handgun possession ban in 2007. His vote was unsuccessful, but it plays into a certain pattern of opposition to unlimited individual
gun possession. He also supported Clinton-era federal practice of holding gun ownership records. For conservatives who value unrestricted gun ownership, Garland’s nomination is bad news.

Ultimately, Garland’s nomination serves to illustrate Aesop’s maxim: “Please all, and you will please none.” Liberals and conservatives alike will be left unsatisfied by Obama’s attempt to make a safe, unobjectionable choice.


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