Merrick Garland would become the fourth Jewish justice on the current U.S. Supreme Court and the ninth ever if the U.S. Senate endorses President Barack Obama’s nomination of the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
Obama announced Garland’s nomination outside the White House on Wednesday, March 16. During that ceremony, Garland pointed to his Jewish heritage and credited his parents with instilling in him a belief in justice and community service.
“My family deserves much of the credit for the path that led me here,” he said. “My grandparents left the Pale of Settlement at the border of Western Russian and Eastern Europe in the early 1900s, fleeing anti-Semitism and hoping to make a better life for their children in America.”
Garland grew up in Chicago and earned undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard University. In 1989 he gave up a law firm partnership to become a federal prosecutor, and he wound up heading the prosecution team in the Oklahoma City bombing.
President Bill Clinton nominated Garland to the Court of Appeals in 1997, and he became the D.C. Circuit’s chief judge in 2013.
“Fidelity to the Constitution and the law has been the cornerstone of my professional life, and it’s the hallmark of the kind of judge I have tried to be for the past 18 years,” Garland said. “If the Senate sees fit to confirm me to the position for which I have been nominated today, I promise to continue on that course.”
Garland and his wife of 28 years, the former Lynn Rosenman, who met at a wedding rehearsal dinner, have two daughters, Jessie and Becky.
He would join Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan as Jewish justices. The other five justices are all Catholic.
“I chose a serious man and an exemplary judge,” Obama said. “Over my seven years as president, in all my conversations with senators from both parties in which I asked their views on qualified Supreme Court nominees — this includes the previous two seats that I had to fill — the one name that has come up repeatedly, from Republicans and Democrats alike, is Merrick Garland.”
Obama added that he has done his job in making a nomination; now it is the Senate’s job to consider and vote on his pick.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), however, quickly reiterated what he has said since Justice Antonin Scalia’s death created the court vacancy: The Senate will not hold hearings or vote on Obama’s pick but instead will wait for the next president to make a nomination in 2017.
Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, the director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, also urged McConnell and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) “to step back from the misguided position they have articulated in recent weeks and instead allow senators to fulfill their constitutionally-mandated role of providing advice and consent. The American people deserve a fully functioning judiciary, starting with a full Supreme Court bench.”
Although Garland was confirmed to the Court of Appeals on a 76-23 vote in 1997, both McConnell and Grassley voted against him.