Garland has been mentioned as high court nominee before

Jessica Gresko
Associated Press

Washington — Merrick Garland has been in this position before.

The last time a seat opened up on the U.S. Supreme Court, in 2010, he was widely considered a top candidate for the job and interviewed with President Barack Obama. But the slot ultimately went to Justice Elena Kagan.

It's not hard to see why Obama might again find the 63-year-old Garland an attractive nominee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last month. He has a reputation as a moderate, which could please Republicans, and a resume that makes him look like a lot of the high court's current members.

He graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, a school attended by five other current justices and Scalia. He's now chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, sometimes called the "second highest court in the land" in part because of the frequency with which its judges ascend to the Supreme Court just a few blocks away.

As a young lawyer, Garland clerked for two appointees of Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the liberal U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan Jr. and Judge Henry J. Friendly, for whom Chief Justice John Roberts also clerked. Before becoming a judge himself, he was a prosecutor and supervised Justice Department investigations into the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.

His background made him popular even with Republicans when he was nominated to the D.C. Circuit by President Bill Clinton in 1995, but the full Senate didn't initially act on his nomination. The issue wasn't Garland, Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley said at the time, but whether the court needed another judge at all. Grassley is now the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which would oversee any hearings on a nominee.

Garland was ultimately confirmed to the D.C. Circuit on a vote of 76-23 in 1997. Thirty-two Republicans voted in favor of his nomination, including seven who are still members of the Senate.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, said one of the Senate’s most important constitutional duties is to confirm Supreme Court justices, and that the next justice must be highly qualified, fair and impartial.

“In the coming weeks, I will carefully review Judge Merrick Garland’s record,” she said in a statement. “This is a job I take very seriously, and I urge my colleagues to do the same. The American people deserve fair and open hearings and a vote on the president’s nominee to the highest court in the land.”

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, also urged his Senate colleagues to fulfill their duties and conduct a fair hearing process and hold a vote on Garland.

“I am pleased that President Obama fulfilled his duty by submitting Merrick Garland as a Supreme Court nominee,” Peters said in a Wednesday statement.

“I look forward to thoroughly evaluating Mr. Garland’s qualifications to serve on our nation’s highest court, a pillar of our democracy that is too important to operate at less than full strength.”

Despite his background, there are two possible stumbling blocks to Garland’s nomination: his age and the fact he is a white male. Most of the court’s current members were nominated and confirmed while in their 50s. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the oldest at confirmation, at 60.

Presidents generally like to choose nominees younger than the 63-year-old Garland to ensure they will serve for a long time. Still, Justice Lewis Powell was 64 when nominated to the court in 1971, so Garland's nomination wouldn't be unprecedented. President Obama has also sought to diversify the court with his previous picks, choosing Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the court's first Hispanic justice, and Kagan, whose confirmation meant that for the first time there were three women on the court.

Garland’s religion — he is Jewish — also wouldn’t add to the diversity of the court. Three of its current members are Jewish and five are Catholic.

The Detroit News contributed

Biographical information on federal judge Merrick Garland

NAME — Merrick B. Garland.

AGE — 63.

CURRENT POSITION — Chief judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

PROFESSIONAL: Before becoming a judge in 1997, Garland served in the Justice Department as principal associate deputy attorney general and deputy assistant attorney general in the criminal division. He was a federal prosecutor in the District of Columbia from 1989 to 1992 and a partner in the law firm of Arnold & Porter from 1985 to 1989 and from 1992 to 1993.

EDUCATION — Harvard College and Harvard Law School.

OF NOTE — Garland supervised Justice Department investigations into the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.