16 Things You Should Know About Merrick Garland, Obama’s Supreme Court Nominee
Policy + Politics

16 Things You Should Know About Merrick Garland, Obama’s Supreme Court Nominee

© Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

President Obama on Wednesday nominated federal Judge Merrick Garland to fill the Supreme Court seat left open by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia early last month.

“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,” Obama said. “These qualities, and his long commitment to public service, have earned him the respect and admiration of leaders from both sides of the aisle.”

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Even so, the announcement sets up a fight with Senate Republicans, who have steadfastly said that, with the president in his final year in office, they will not give any Obama nominee a hearing or a vote. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reiterated after Obama’s announcement that the nomination process shouldn’t progress until the American people have had a chance to vote and the next president is sworn in.

While the political battle plays out, critical cases are sitting waiting to be heard by the Supreme Court, including ones on the Obama administration’s executive actions on immigration, affirmative action, abortion restrictions, and more. If the rulings come to a 4-4 tie, the lower court’s ruling would stand.

Below are 16 facts about Garland, who is sure to garner plenty of media attention in the coming months whether he gets a Senate hearing or not.

1. Merrick Brian Garland is a married father of two. He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard in 1974 and magna cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1977.

2. Garland’s Jewish grandparents emigrated from Russia in the 1900s to escape chronic anti-Semitism. 

3. A Chicagoan like Obama, Garland attended public schools and was valedictorian of his high school class. His father, Cyril, ran his own business out of the family’s basement, advertising area clothing shops.

4. In high school, Garland served as president of the National Honor Society and Student Council and belonged to the forensics team, the debate team and the German Club. He also performed in various productions like “Guys and Dolls” and “Pygmalion.”

5. To pay his way through law school college, Garland sold his comic book collection and worked as a shoe store stock clerk during summer breaks. He received a scholarship for his undergraduate years.

6. After receiving his law degree, Garland clerked for federal Judge Henry Friendly and Supreme Court Justice William Brennan

7. He met his wife, the former Lynn Rosenmann, in Boston while she was working toward a master’s degree in physics at MIT. Her grandfather is a former New York Supreme Court justice who served as special counsel to Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman.

8. Garland hasn’t always worked in government. He spent four years at the large Washington law firm of Arnold & Porter and was named a partner in 1985. While working at the practice, Garland also taught antitrust courses at Harvard Law.

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9. In 1989, Garland became a line prosecutor in the U.S. attorney’s office in D.C. He joined the Justice Department in 1993 as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Criminal Division.

10. After one year at the Justice Department, he was named the principal associate deputy attorney general. In this role, Garland coordinated the department’s response to the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. He launched the case against the perpetrators and subsequently oversaw their prosecution.

11. President Clinton nominated Garland for an opening on the D.C. Circuit court in 1995, but he wasn’t confirmed for 19 months because Senate Republicans disagreed over whether there should be 11 or 12 seats on that court. Garland was confirmed in 1997 by a vote of 76-23.

12. For the past three years, Garland has served as the chief judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C.

13. Of his former law clerks, 33 went on to clerk for liberal Supreme Court justices and 11 for conservatives. Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan and retired justice John Paul Stevens collected the most ex-Garland clerks.  

14. He’s been on Obama’s radar for a while. Garland was on Obama’s shortlist of potential nominees to fill the slot that opened up on the Supreme Court in 2010. Obama instead nominated Justice Elena Kagan.

15. Garland, at 63 years old, is the oldest Supreme Court nominee since Lewis Powell, who was 64 when he was appointed in 1972.

16. If confirmed, Garland would the fourth Jewish justice on the current court. The remaining five justices are Catholic. A Protestant hasn’t been on the bench since 2010.