What You Need To Know About The SCOTUS Nominee

March 16th 2016

Laura Donovan

President Barack Obama nominated 63-year-old Merrick Garland, the chief judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, to the Supreme Court on Wednesday morning. Garland's nomination comes a little more than a month after the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

"This is not a responsibility that I take lightly," Obama said at the Rose Garden on Wednesday morning, adding that he conducted a "rigorous" progress to decide on a nominee. "[Garland's] long commitment to public service has earned him the respect of leaders from both sides of the aisle."

Here's what you need to know about Garland.

1. President Bill Clinton nominated him to the D.C. circuit.

Bill Clinton speaks about prisons

President Bill Clinton nominated him to the D.C. Circuit in 1997. He earned the confirmation with a 76-23 vote, according to Reuters.

When Clinton nominated him nearly two decades ago, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) described Garland as “not only a fine nominee, but as good as Republicans can expect from [the Clinton] administration.”

2. He's known for siding with law enforcement over defendants. 

Garland, who is known for his centrist views, has a record of favoring law enforcement over defendants. As Reason writer Damon Root noted on Wednesday morning, Garland has often voted on the side of police and prosecutors, a fact that may "come as a disappointment to many progressives."

"The most significant area of the law in which Judge Garland's views obviously differ materially from those of Justice Stevens is criminal law. Judge Garland rarely votes in favor of criminal defendants' appeals of their convictions," SCOTUSblog founder Tom Goldstein wrote in 2010. "Most striking, in ten criminal cases, Judge Garland has disagreed with his more-liberal colleagues; in each, he adopted the position that was more favorable to the government or declined to reach a question on which the majority of the court had adopted a position favorable to a defendant."

Garland also backed President George W. Bush's controversial Guantanamo Bay policies in the case Al Odah v. United States. Many years later, when he was a prospective choice for a Supreme Court opening that ultimately went to Elena Kagan, American University law professor Herman Schwartz criticized Garland's early approval of Bush's Guantanamo Bay detention policy in an interview with The Washington Post.

3. He was considered for the Supreme Court Justice opening in 2010, but was considered "not liberal enough." 

Supreme Court

Garland was considered a potential Supreme Court Justice pick in 2010 to replace John Paul Stevens.

"A small but vocal group of activists is privately saying that Garland is not liberal enough to replace the legendary Stevens, whose opinions defended gay rights and abortion rights and opposed the death penalty," wrote The Washington Post's Carol D. Leonnig in 2010. "They say Garland is a centrist who won't champion liberal concerns, too often finds middle ground with his conservative colleagues on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and showed great deference to President George W. Bush's indefinite detentions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba."

Though Garland received flak from some people for not fully championing progressive ideas, Ed Whelan, president of the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center and a conservative lawyer, told The Washington Post in 2010 that Garland had "earned the respect of a range of folks, including conservatives."

"I think he is the most likely to exercise judicial restraint," Whelan added.

Joseph E. diGenova, a Republican and former federal prosecutor, told The New York Times in 2010 that Garland is “is a profoundly serious guy who really should be the kind of person you want to have on the Supreme Court.”

“If Obama wants to get a fantastic judge on the court, he’s got one ready to go in Merrick Garland,” diGenova said.

4. He worked on the Oklahoma City bombing case.

Garland supervised the prosecution of the Oklahoma City bombing case in the mid-1990s. Jamie S. Gorelick, the deputy attorney general at the time, told The New York Times that Garland asked to go to the scene of the gruesome crime, which killed nearly 170 people, and "worked around the clock" on the case. Obama said in the Rose Garden on Wednesday that this took Garland away from his family, with whom he is very close, for weeks.

During his own speech in the Rose Garden on Wednesday, Garland recalled his experience in Oklahoma City.

"We promised we would find the perpetrators, that we would bring them to justice, and that we would do it in a way that honored the Constitution," he said.

5. He values family.

President Obama noted Garland's dedication to his daughters and family in his Rose Garden address, and Garland has made his commitment to family known throughout his career.

“They tell you in Washington, that if you want a friend get a dog. Harry Truman said that. That is not true. Get a family," Garland said during a panel at Georgetown University Law Center in 2013. "No matter how much honor you have, people will attack you one way or the other. And the principle solace that you get is from your family. Because they’re behind you no matter what happens. So never forget about that. Whatever interests you have in your career, you have to balance it with a deep relationship with your family.”

He added that driving his children to school was integral to maintaining a work-life balance.

“For myself, the balance came from always driving my children to school. So that every day we had that first half hour, 45 minutes of nothing but uninterrupted time. Sometimes it was just a bunch of sarcasm. Sometimes it was just listening to the radio. But sometimes it was real explanation of what the kids were thinking, what they were worried about." — Merrick Garland