In the wake of the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia President Obama has nominated Merrick Garland for the vacant Supreme Court position. Garland is being opposed by the GOP even though he is a widely respected centrist. While Garland is anything but progressive he would be a substantial improvement over Scalia on the environmental front. The latter regularly opposed the EPA and championed increased corporate power. His was the deciding vote that ultimately approved the Citizens United decision which gave corporations the right to provide unlimited funding to political advocacy that advances their own interests (ie buy politicians).
As recently as June, 2015 Scalia showed his contempt for the environment when he opposed the EPA’s effort to reduce mercury and other toxics emitted in coal plants. Given his voting record Scalia’s passing bodes well for environmental action and the EPA’s efforts to clean up the air, water and soil.
Garland is unquestionably qualified to sit on the Supreme Court. He is a 19 year veteran of the DC Circuit where he attained the position of chief judge. Prior to this Garland left a very lucrative position as a partner in the multinational law firm Arnold and Porter to serve the public and work for the Justice Department. Garland was confirmed for the position on the DC Circuit court with bipartisan support in 1997.
Despite his stellar track record, the GOP has announced that they will not schedule a hearing for Mr Garland. However, at least five Sens. including Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, John Boozman of Arkansas and Joe Manchin of West Virginia have broken ranks and agreed to meet with Garland.
In an interview with WGAN in Portland, Maine, Collins claimed there was no basis to refuse a hearing.
“I must confess that I’m a bit perplexed,” Collins said. “The Constitution clearly states that the president shall nominate individuals to serve on our courts, and then the Senate can give its advice and consent, or withhold its consent, I should add,” Collins said. “My thought is that the normal process should proceed.”
Even more embarrassing for the knee-jerk obstructionists in the Republican party is the fact that Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), the longest serving Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, is the one that suggested Garland for the nomination after Scalia’s passing.
“[Obama] could easily name Merrick Garland, who is a fine man,” Hatch was quoted as saying by Newsmax, before adding that “he probably won’t do that because this appointment is about the election. So I’m pretty sure he’ll name someone the [liberal Democratic base] wants.”
Despite these words, Sen. Hatch, has refused to meet with Garland or anyone Obama nominates to replace Scalia.
Garland is far from being an environmental champion, nor is he a stalwart advocate of campaign finance reform. He supported super PACs although he did uphold a ban on contributions from government contractors to federal candidates.
It is uncertain how Garland would vote on issues related to corporate
power, but he has tended to support the EPA in a number of cases.
Here are some comments about Garland as quoted in a Think Progress article:
“Judge Garland has in a number of cases favored contested EPA regulations and actions when challenged by industry, and in other cases he has accepted challenges brought by environmental groups.”
Richard Lazarus, an environmental law scholar at Harvard University, in Mother Jones:
“No one would say Garland is a hardened environmentalist…we think we’ll get a straight shot from him. He doesn’t come with any inherent skepticism about the federal government overreaching [on environmental regulation]. In terms of looking for someone who would give a fair hearing [to the Clean Power Plan], he’s a big shift from Scalia.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has promised that his Republican majority would obstruct any attempt by President Obama to fill his seat.
In President Bill Clinton’s second term 32 Republicans backed Garland’s nomination. Hatch, along with current Senators Thad Cochran (R-MS), Dan Coats (R-IN), Susan Collins (R-ME), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), John McCain (R-AZ), and Pat Roberts (R-KS), voted to confirm him.
Republican obstructionists have been forced to eat their own words as they have previously praised Garland when he was nominated for the Washington Circuit Court in 1997.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT):
“Merrick B. Garland is highly qualified to sit on the D.C. circuit. His intelligence and his scholarship cannot be questioned… His legal experience is equally impressive… Accordingly, 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.”
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL):
“He has a high position with the Department of Justice and, by all accounts, does a good job there… I would feel comfortable supporting him for another judgeship.”
Jon Kyl (R-AZ):
“I believe Mr. Garland is well qualified..So there is no question, he is qualified to serve on the court.”
Then-Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC):
“I have no reservations about Mr. Garland’s qualifications or character to serve in this capacity…Moreover, I have no doubt that Mr. Garland is a man of character and integrity.”
Then-Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT):
“[T]he nominee has the character and is highly qualified for the position.”
Hatch and Sessions serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee and they have signed a letter in support of the obstructing Garland’s nomination.
People are planning to show their support for Obama’s nominee and against Republican obstructionism in the middle of April in a protest that is being called, “Democracy Awakening.”