Over the past several weeks, President Obama and his surrogates have been urging Senate Republicans to do their job and give his Supreme Court nominee a hearing — once he did his job of actually nominating a justice, that is.
Obama finally announced Wednesday morning that he was nominating Merrick Garland, the chief judge of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, to fill Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat on the high court.
The best that can be said about this pick is that Obama chose the one candidate under serious consideration who most looks like the senators who will hold his fate in their hands: an old white guy. Each of the other candidates who was rumored to be under serious consideration — Ketanji Brown Jackson, Jane Kelly, Sri Srinivasan and Paul Watford — would have brought a level of historic diversity to the nomination that Merrick does not.
(Though, to make my ancestors proud, I do have to mention that Garland is Jewish. If confirmed, he would become the ninth Jewish justice to sit on the Supreme Court, and the fourth on the current Court — joining Justices Ginsburg, Kagan and Breyer.)
In some sense, President Obama has called the senators’ bluff. On Friday, Sen. Orrin Hatch praised Garland as a “fine man” whom he would like to see Obama nominate — but he said he doubted Obama would do so because he thought Obama would play to his more liberal base. Now that the president has done exactly what Sen. Hatch suggested, it would be hard for him and other less extreme Republicans to oppose the nominee.
In other words, Obama probably believes his pick represents the most realistic opportunity to break the logjam in Congress and get a ninth justice on the Court to serve the country. Garland is undoubtedly qualified for the job: He is well-respected as a brilliant thinker, has served as a judge on one of the most important courts in the country for nearly two decades, and has all the schooling and pre-judging markers that are normally associated with being a Supreme Court justice. He is also regarded as somewhat of a moderate, without clearly ideological positions on highly controversial issues.
Obama’s hope must be that the Senate can’t possibly deny Garland a hearing before the Judiciary Committee and then a vote in the full Senate based on these impeccable and somewhat neutral qualifications. And that if the Senate does, President Obama — or President Clinton, as his successor — would have the leeway to nominate a true liberal to the Court after the Senate has failed the American public by refusing to move on Garland.
But there are so many problems with this thinking — so many, in fact, that my first instinct when I heard the Garland was, “WTF?”