Will They or Won’t They? The Nomination and Appointment of Would-Be Supreme Court Justice Merrick Garland

In Media Mentions by Chris Kessel

It’s been seven weeks since the news broke of Justice Antonin Scalia’s sudden passing, two weeks since President Obama announced his nomination of would-be replacement Judge Merrick Garland, and the jury is still out on whether or not he’ll nominated — or even considered — by the Senate Judiciary Committee at some point during this election year. It’s a complicated argument, with valid points to be made on all sides of the issue; all that, we’ll leave up to the politicians to sort out.

But as they do, as one Republican senator (Mark Kirk, of Illinois) relented and met with Judge Garland this week, we thought it apt to take the opportunity and share a little about who exactly Merrick Garland is, and how nominations and appointments to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) work.

Who is Judge Merrick Garland?

Considered for a previous Supreme Court vacancy (for the seats that now belong to Justices Kagan and Sotomayor), Merrick B. Garland holds degrees from Harvard College and Harvard Law School. His early professional accomplishments include a position as law clerk to Judge Henry Friendly of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and to U.S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, and also a partnership at the law firm Arnold & Porter.

Garland’s vast judicial resume goes on to detail his role as Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia from 1989 to 1992; Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice; Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General from 1994 to 1997, during which time he supervised the prosecution of Oklahoma City bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols and Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.

He was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in April 1997, and became chief judge in February 2013.

And how exactly does a Judge become a Supreme Court justice?

First he (or she, as the case may be) must be nominated by the President… And from there ensues a game of political tennis, including committee scrutiny, background checks, testimony, Senate debate, and eventually a vote. The process can happen quickly, or it can happen quite slowly: Justice Harriet Miers, appointed by President George W. Bush, was confirmed in just 21 days, while it took the Senate more than five times that long (114 days, to be exact) to confirm Reagan appointee Robert H. Bork.

It’s been 15 days since Garland’s appointment, and many Senate Republicans are holding fast to their assertions that his nomination, well, won’t even be considered let alone confirmed.

And the truth is, only time will tell.