SCOTUS pick lacks record on social issues, critics say

WASHINGTON (BP) -- Merrick Garland, a federal judge described in media reports as a "moderate" with little judicial record on abortion or same-sex marriage, is President Obama's choice to fill a Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

President Obama praised Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland (right) as "thoughtful" and "fair-minded" during a White House announcement March 16.
Screen capture from C-Span
Announcing his pick from the White House Rose Garden today (March 16), Obama praised Garland's ability to build consensus among "colleagues with wide-ranging judicial philosophies" and told Senate Republicans failing to consider the nomination would be "an abdication of the Senate's constitutional duty."

But in a speech on the Senate floor, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., reiterated his pledge not to take up or confirm the nomination.

"The American people may well elect a president who decides to nominate Judge Garland for Senate consideration," McConnell said. "The next president may also nominate someone very different. Either way, our view is this: Give the people a voice in the filling of this vacancy."

Garland was appointed to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals by President Bill Clinton and, following a lengthy confirmation battle, has served there since 1997, being elevated to chief justice in 2013. Prior to that, he served as a federal prosecutor, an attorney in private practice and a clerk to Supreme Court Justice William Brennan. As a prosecutor, he oversaw the government's investigation of the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995.

Statements from conservative evangelical leaders tended to state principled opposition to confirming any justice during a presidential election year rather than opposition to particular rulings or positions espoused by Garland.

Jerry Johnson, president of the National Religious Broadcasters, said "the American people should at least have a chance to vote in November before this president gets to place a third and likely generational altering pick on the Court." Similarly, Jay Sekulow, chief counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice, said blocking confirmation until after the presidential election "is the correct course of action" for the Senate to pursue "based soundly on constitutional principles, historic precedent and prudence."

Russell Moore, president of Southern Baptists' Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press in written comments, "President Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland comes at a very tumultuous time in our national politics. We shouldn't forget that Judge Garland is seeking to fill the vacancy left by one of the Court's most brilliant jurists and defenders of life and religious liberty in Antonin Scalia.

"Regardless of the outcome of the president's nomination, my hope is that Justice Scalia's legacy of constitutionalism and the defense of unborn people would live on through whoever is ultimately confirmed to judge in his place," Moore said.

At least one pro-life group, the Susan B. Anthony List, said Obama would not have nominated Garland were he not a supporter of abortion rights.

"We do not know this nominee but we do know Barack Obama," SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a statement. "Anyone he nominates will join the voting bloc on the Court that consistently upholds abortion on-demand. The president should not be permitted one last opportunity to stack the Court with pro-abortion justices."

LifeSiteNews reported Garland "has never ruled or commented on abortion." When Obama considered Garland to fill a previous Supreme Court vacancy in 2010, "left-wing activists" criticized him as "insufficiently outspoken on abortion."

Garland did not take part in a 2-1 ruling in which the D.C. Circuit struck down a section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, LifeSiteNews said.

Gun rights activists have taken issue with Garland's decision to rehear a case concerning D.C.'s strict gun restrictions, NPR reported, adding, "Garland has a lengthy record on the D.C. circuit court, but that court deals mainly with regulatory issues and not hot-button social issues of the day, such as abortion and gay rights. That has served as a confirmation advantage for previous nominees from the appeals court, and it likely will for Garland, too."

In announcing Garland's nomination, Obama highlighted his experience on the D.C. Circuit, which is commonly regarded as America's second highest court.

"On a circuit court known for strong-minded judges on both ends of the spectrum, Judge Garland has earned a track record of building consensus as a thoughtful, fair-minded judge who follows the law," Obama said. "He's shown a rare ability to bring together odd couples, assemble unlikely coalitions, persuade colleagues with wide-ranging judicial philosophies to sign on to his opinions. And this record on the bench speaks, I believe, to Judge Garland's fundamental temperament -- his insistence that all views deserve a respectful hearing."

The president cited praise of Garland from Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and conservative Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. Obama criticized Senate Republicans for threatening not to hold confirmation hearings.

"I simply ask Republicans in the Senate to give him a fair hearing and then an up or down vote," Obama said. "If you don't, then it will not only be an abdication of the Senate's constitutional duty, it will indicate a process for nominating and confirming judges that is beyond repair.

"... The reputation of the Supreme Court will inevitably suffer. Faith in our justice system will inevitably suffer. Our democracy will ultimately suffer as well," Obama said.

Garland, who fought back tears as he expressed gratitude for the nomination, said "trust that justice will be done in our courts without prejudice or partisanship is what, in large part, distinguishes this country from others. People must be confident that a judge's decisions are determined by the law and only the law.

"For a judge to be worthy of such trust," he said, "he or she must be faithful to the Constitution and to the statutes passed by the Congress. He or she must put aside his personal views or preferences and follow the law, not make it."

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP).
Download Story