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Obama Nominates Merrick Garland for Supreme Court Amid Major Abortion Rights Case

Jessica Mason Pieklo

Garland would be the third former prosecutor on the bench, alongside Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Samuel Alito.

Read more of our articles on Justice Antonin Scalia’s potential successor here.

President Obama on Wednesday nominated D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Merrick B. Garland to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.

The announcement comes as Senate Republicans insist they will not consider a replacement for Scalia until after the presidential election in November.

Garland, 63, was first appointed to the United States Court of Appeals in April 1997 and became chief judge of the circuit in February 2013. Garland is a graduate of both Harvard College and Harvard Law School.

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Following graduation, he served as law clerk to Judge Henry J. Friendly of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and to U.S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. Garland then became the special assistant to then-Attorney General Janet Reno. Following a short time in private practice, Garland returned to the public sector, serving as an assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia from 1989 to 1992, and as deputy assistant attorney general in the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice during the Clinton administration.

Garland has a reputation as a moderate, though conservatives are likely to attack Garland on his record on gun rights. Garland, while on the D.C. Circuit, voted to overturn a panel decision striking D.C.’s ban on handguns. That case would eventually find its way to the Supreme Court, where the conservative majority in D.C. v. Heller would find the ban unconstitutional in an opinion authored by the late Justice Scalia.

Garland’s record on reproductive rights is less clear, as is his record on civil rights cases. SCOTUSblog reports that when Garland was called to rule in civil rights cases, he generally sided with plaintiffs alleging rights violations. Garland served in the Justice Department during the initial implementation of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act. President Clinton nominated him to the D.C. Court of Appeals soon after.

NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue in a statement criticized GOP senators for refusing to hold hearings for any Obama nominee, as the Roberts Court considers reproductive rights cases that will have a lasting impact on abortion access throughout the country.

“This year, monumental cases will be decided by the Court on abortion access specifically and reproductive rights generally,” Hogue said. “Judge Garland does not have a public record on reproductive rights and Senate Republicans’ obstruction denies all of us our right to know where this nominee stands on core constitutional questions of women’s privacy, dignity, and equality. With seven in ten Americans supporting legal access to abortion, we have a right to know where our justices stand on this important issue. It’s time for Republicans to stop putting their party’s interests ahead of our nation’s.”

Garland served with Chief Justice John Roberts on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and the two are said to be friends, a fact that could be designed to move conservatives on his nomination.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said of the nomination in his Senate floor speech: “It seems clear that President Obama made this nomination not with the intent of seeing the nominee confirmed, but in order to politicize it for the purposes of the election.”

“What the president has done with this nomination would be unfair to any nominee,” McConnell continued. Instead of spending more time debating an issue where we can’t agree, let’s keep working to address the issues where we can, he said, closing with a plea to let the American people decide who the next nominee should be.

Seven current Republican senators voted in favor of confirming Garland to the United States Court of Appeals in 1997, as reported in the Washington Post. Those senators include Susan Collins (R-ME), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), James Inhofe (R-OK), John McCain (R-AZ), Dan Coats (R-IN), Thad Cochran (R-MS), and Pat Roberts (R-KS).

“As president, it is both my constitutional duty to nominate a justice and one of the most important decisions that I—or any president—will make,” Obama said in an email to supporters Wednesday morning in advance of the nomination announcement. “In putting forward a nominee today, I am fulfilling my constitutional duty. I’m doing my job. I hope that our senators will do their jobs, and move quickly to consider my nominee.”

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