Today President Barack Obama nominated D.C. Circuit Court Chief Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. Though not a strong liberal appointment, Assistant Professor of Political Science Meghan Leonard said it could be seen as a protection of future liberal nominees.
Garland is eminently qualified for this position, having graduated Harvard Law, clerked for former Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, served as a federal prosecutor, and served in the Clinton Administration Justice Department. Politically, Judge Garland is center-left, a moderate by most measures.
It is clear with this pick that President Obama was selecting someone he thought might have a chance to move the Senate Republicans off their strategy of obstruction. This selection is the best Senate Republicans could have hoped for in terms of ideology and qualifications. However, early indications are that Senate Republicans plan to continue their unprecedented strategy of complete obstruction of the nominee. What will be interesting is the role of the election in affecting whether or not the Senate Republicans move on this nomination. While it is still unclear the likelihood of either party winning, it is possible that a November win by likely nominee Hillary Clinton could force the Senate to confirm Judge Garland in November or December.
While Senate Republicans have a lot to consider here, other groups are reacting to this nomination. Many liberal groups are somewhat unhappy with the selection of a moderate. This is especially because Judge Garland is seen as being very conservative on criminal justice and rights of the accused issues. These concerns are serious and important, however, it seems clear most liberals will get behind President Obama and his nominee.
In many liberal circles, there was hope for a more diverse nominee, which could have meant a woman, a person of color, someone from a different religion, or even someone who attended a law school that isn’t Harvard or Yale. In fact, Judge Garland is even much older than most nominees to the Supreme Court, at age 63. It seems to me that the President was being strategic in this respect, too. This nominee might never be confirmed, and may become unappointable in the future as a result. Given his age, this will be the case with Judge Garland anyway. The nomination of Judge Garland could therefore be read as a protection of the much more diverse group of liberal potential nominees for future presidents.