U.S. Supreme Court Nominations

Oklahoma Bombing Case Had Lasting Impact on Potential Nominee Merrick Garland

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Federal appeals Judge Merrick Garland tends to have more of a law-and-order focus than other Democratic appointees on his court, likely because of views influenced by his prosecutor background and his investigation of the Oklahoma City bombing.

Friends and former colleagues told the New York Times that the Oklahoma City case had a lasting impact on Garland. At his request, he was dispatched to the scene as the second-ranking person in the office of deputy attorney general, even as the bodies were still being recovered.

Garland’s views are being scrutinized because he is one of three lawyers who are reportedly top candidates for a Supreme Court nomination. The Times looked at his background and his rulings in criminal law cases as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Before joining the Justice Department in the Clinton administration, Garland was an assistant U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C., giving up a partnership at Arnold & Porter to take the job. At the U.S. attorney’s office, he prosecuted a violent drug ring and did preliminary work in the drug case against D.C. Mayor Marion Barry. In the Justice Department he supervised the Unabomber prosecution and the probe of the 1996 Olympics bombing.

The story says Garland is known as a moderate liberal in most areas, but “his rulings suggest that he could be more of a center-right justice in matters of criminal law.” The Times looked at Garland’s criminal justice rulings in split cases, and deemed him more sympathetic to prosecutors than other Democratic appointees.

SCOTUSblog also examined Garland’s cases, including his rulings on Guantanamo detainees. Of the three lawyers on the rumored Supreme Court short list, Garland is the least likely to adopt a liberal position and the most likely to have an immediate influence on the court, the blog says. The reason: He is so well respected, particularly among the conservative justices and swing voter Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.

“Judge Garland’s record demonstrates that he is essentially the model, neutral judge,” SCOTUSblog says. “He is acknowledged by all to be brilliant. His opinions avoid unnecessary, sweeping pronouncements.”

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