Against the wishes of Republican congress members, President Barack Obama handed down a nomination for the Supreme Court on Wednesday March 16.
Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland, 63, to fill the seat left vacant after Justice Antonin Scalia’s sudden death in Shafter, Texas.
Garland’s nomination comes on the heels of a public refusal from Republican congress members to hold a hearing for anyone Obama might nominate.
Garland — who is best known as the prosecutor in Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols’s trial for their roles in the Oklahoma City Bombing — was appointed to the D.C. circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1997 by former President Bill Clinton and assumed the chief judge position in 2013.
In his time on the U.S. Court of Appeals, Garland has earned a reputation of neutrality and bipartisanship.
“I think Garland is a moderate choice,” political science professor Richard Yawn said. “I think Republicans from moderate states of who are otherwise moderate will advocate for giving him a vote.”
Senator Mitch McConnell has been at the forefront of the campaign to refuse Obama’s nomination, arguing that since it is an election year the nomination should go to the next elected president.
“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice,” McConnell said in February. “Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”
Obama’s choice to nominate Garland puts Sen McConnell and others standing with him in an interesting position — if GOP senators refuse to vote yes or no on a centrist nomination it could affect their campaign in primary challenges and the general.
“It’s going to depend on whether the president and Democrats can win the public relations battle against the Republicans,” Yawn said.
Because Garland is a choice that appeals to both liberal and conservative members of congress, it could be hard for McConnell to refuse a vote on the nomination.
Even Chief Justice John Roberts, one of the most conservative members of SCOTUS, has had positive things to say about Garland’s decision-making as a judge.
“Anytime Judge Garland disagrees, you know you’re in a difficult area,” he said.
If a new Justice is not appointed and confirmed, it leaves the possibility for 4-4 votes on cases heard by SCOTUS — if there is a tie, the lower court’s verdict stands and it is as if SCOTUS never heard the case at all.