At 63, Merrick Garland is one of the oldest Supreme Court nominees in modern history — no one older has been nominated since FDR was in office — and many Court and political observers were surprised President Obama had nominated an old white man, given the other folks reportedly on his shortlist.
But Garland’s relatively advanced age works in Obama’s favor in a few ways: It means that this is likely Garland’s last shot to sit on the high court; it means his time in the role would likely be shorter than typical — a fact that could affect Republicans’ decision to confirm his nomination. And it means Garland has been around long enough that a number of those conservatives now opposing his nomination have had the chance to say some very nice things about him in the past. In fact, three of the 11 Republican senators sitting on the Judiciary Committee — all of whom are united in their refusal to hold a hearing on Garland — have in the past lavished praise on the judge.
On Sunday, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah published an op-ed in Time titled “Democrats Are SCOTUS Hypocrites.” In it, he complained that Democrats have unconscionably delayed judicial nominees for political purposes, but today it’s Hatch who is refusing to hold a hearing for a candidate he has called eminently qualified for the job, because Democrats did it first. Who’s the hypocrite now?
In 1995, on the Senate floor: “Now I would like to state, for all of my colleagues here, that he is a very good nominee — I commend the administration for being willing to nominate Merrick Garland… I hope, since he is a good nominee — I think almost everybody would have to admit he’s a good nominee — that we will vote him out next week. I understand the argument against that, there is no argument against Merrick Garland at all, and perhaps we can solve that problem in the future.”
In 1997, on the Senate floor: “To my knowledge, no one, absolutely no one disputes the following: Merrick B. Garland is highly qualified to sit on the D.C. circuit. His intelligence and his scholarship cannot be questioned… I believe Mr. Garland is a fine nominee. I know him personally, I know of his integrity, I know of his legal ability, I know of his honesty, I know of his acumen, and he belongs on the court. I believe he is not only a fine nominee, but is as good as Republicans can expect from this administration. In fact, I would place him at the top of the list… Opposition to this nomination will only serve to undermine the credibility of our legitimate goal of keeping proven activists off the bench.”
“This is an important nomination. I believe Merrick Garland will go on to distinction… I want to thank my colleagues who voted for Judge Merrick Garland. I believe they did what was right.”
In 2010, to Reuters: “A consensus nominee… I have no doubts that Garland would get a lot of votes. And I will do my best to help him get them… He would be very well supported by all sides and the president knows that.”
In 2016, to News Max: “[President Obama] could easily name Merrick Garland, who is a fine man.”
In 1997, on the Senate floor: “I respect the legal ability of Mr. Garland… We are not here in any way to impugn the integrity of Mr. Garland. By all accounts, he is a fine person and an able lawyer. He does have a very good job with the U.S. Department of Justice… I would feel comfortable supporting him for another judgeship.”
In 1997, on the Senate floor: “But I think it is important to say that there is not a stall, that I or other Senators could have delayed the vote on Merrick Garland for longer periods of time had we chosen to do so. We want to have a vote on it. We want to have a debate on it. We want this Senate to consider whether or not this vacancy should be filled.”
In 1997, on the Senate floor: “Mr. Garland seems to be well qualified and would probably make a good judge — in some other court.”
Most of those kind words were uttered during a 1997 hearing on whether Garland should be appointed to the DC circuit court. Hatch was joined in his support for Garland that year by six other still-sitting Republican senators: Dan Coats of Indiana, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Susan Collins of Maine, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, John McCain of Arizona and Pat Roberts of Kansas. Collins and Grassley have said they would meet with Garland.
Legislators are not alone in making an about-face on Garland. The conservative Judicial Crisis Network, whose policy director once called the judge “the best scenario we could hope for to bring the tension and the politics in the city down a notch,” has now committed $2 million in ads railing against him.