The stubborn refusal of Senate Republicans to consider any Supreme Court nominee offered by President Obama would be outrageous, regardless of whom the president selected to succeed Justice Antonin Scalia. But Obama's announcement Wednesday that he will nominate Merrick Garland, a moderate federal appeals court judge who has won bipartisan praise during a long and distinguished legal career, puts the Republicans' irresponsibility and cheap partisanship in even starker relief.
Garland, 63, is the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, on which he served with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who once said that "any time Judge Garland disagrees, you know you're in a difficult area."
Incredibly, Obama and Garland had barely finished a Rose Garden news conference before prominent Republicans reiterated that they would refuse to give Garland fair consideration. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) dusted off the specious argument that because Obama is in his final year as president, his exercise of his appointment power must be held hostage to the results of the November election. "Give the people a voice in the filling of this vacancy," McConnell pleaded.
When Merrick Garland attended Niles West High School in the late 1960s, he was the sort of young man who seemed destined for big things. He was valedictorian and head of the student council, the possessor of a long list of academic honors.
But as Garland tries to gain a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, classmate James Donenberg said his time on the school’s debate team might prove to be the most relevant part of his past.
“He’s always been a person who wants to look at every side of an issue,” said Donenberg, now an accountant in Northbrook, Ill. “He wants to understand things, all points of view. He tries not to be judgmental in that sense. He’s very fair-minded about everything.”
I’ve selected a nominee who is widely recognized not only as one of America’s sharpest legal minds, but someone who brings to his work a spirit of decency, modesty, integrity, even-handedness, and excellence. These qualities, and his long commitment to public service, have earned him the respect and admiration of leaders from both sides of the aisle.
President Obama's nomination of federal appeals court Judge Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court led some pundits to declare that Republicans would be hard-pressed to oppose him. But as Republicans and conservative groups made abundantly clear within minutes of the announcement, the issue isn't who got nominated. It's who did the nominating.
"Nominee Makes No Difference," as the Concerned Women for America put it succinctly in the headline of its news release Wednesday morning. "This nomination will upset the balance of the Supreme Court to the radical left for many decades. Such a seismic shift in the highest court of the land must be presented to the people," said Penny Nance, the group's president.
Granted, when you're standing where Nance is standing, anyone to the left of John Kasich looks radical. But the polarization around this issue could put Republican senators in a no-win position.
President Obama’s choice for the Supreme Court is a highly credentialed, sober jurist who checks exactly none of the boxes drawn out by Democratic strategists who were hoping the pick might be useful in the November elections.
Merrick Garland is a white man from Chicago, a 63-year-old with a centrist record and a career story as neat as his shock of white hair.
As Obama said in the Rose Garden on Wednesday, though, he set aside “short-term expediency and narrow politics” to make his choice.