This is being touted as “breaking news” on all the networks, but it was pretty much as predictable as the arrival of Spring next week. After several weeks of deliberation, President Barack Obama has decided on Merrick Garland as his nominee to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia. Despite all of the pushing and pulling in the media, neither side in this particular drama has moved so much as a fraction of an inch since day one. The President was always going to nominate a replacement and, at least thus far, Chuck Grassley and Mitch McConnell were always going to take a pass on confirming them. Still, we’ll at least have a name and a face to fit into the picture today. (NBC News)
President Obama has made up his mind.
The president will announce his nominee to the Supreme Court at 11 a.m. ET Wednesday, just over a month after the death of conservative jurist Antonin Scalia left a vacancy on the bench.
“I’ve devoted a considerable amount of time and deliberation to this decision,” Obama said in a statement. “I’ve consulted with legal experts and people across the political spectrum, both inside and outside government. And we’ve reached out to every member of the Senate, who each have a responsibility to do their job and take this nomination just as seriously.”
The President is sticking to his guns and declaring that hearings and a vote on his nominee are what the Constitution dictates and what the American people expect. On the first score he’s only technically correct if you ignore the factor of time. On the second… we’ll see.
As to the Constitution, the founders did not see fit to put any sort of time frame on how long it would take the Senate to complete (or even begin) the process, so there is no violation of law involved in waiting until the new president is sworn in. As to the public, that looks like a mixed bag. The Democrats and their media allies will be pounding this drum all summer, insisting the the republic is in danger from this horrible betrayal of the process. It might work, too. A Wall Street Journal / NBC poll from just last week found that the country is almost evenly divided on the subject. A plurality wants a hearing and a vote promptly, with a slight majority (55%) saying they would disapprove of waiting until next year. But that’s so close to the partisan split in national elections that I wouldn’t lose much sleep over it in terms of downstream effects in November.
So how did Obama make the final decision? Insiders have felt for a while now that the President had narrowed it down to two options: Sri Srinivasan and the aforementioned Merrick Garland. Both are District of Columbia appeals court judges who were last confirmed under Democratic presidents. (Obama for the former and Bill Clinton for the latter.) Srinvasan seemed like the more likely pick if Obama wants to keep the diversity card in play for obvious reasons. Further, he was a clerk for Sandra Day O’Connor and served in the Justice Department before ascending to the bench. Garland was a Justice Department worker under Clinton and has a fairly similar resume. The major knock against him from the DNC perspective was that he’s the “old white guy” in the contest. He’s 63 years old (as compared to Srinivasan’s relative spring chicken status at 49) and just too darned Caucasian.
Since Obama is clearly now in legacy building mode 24 hours per day, I would have said that Srinivasan had the upper hand here. Democrats could expect liberal rulings from him and have a decent chance at a full decade more of service than they would get out of Garland. Plus, it would have kept the entire rainbow coalition thing going. So why did Garland get the nod? If I had to pin down a guess I would say he simply had more experience and had served under presidents of both parties. He’s the “easier” sell in theory, and makes it all the harder for the GOP to justify not giving him a look. If the President has quietly accepted the fact that his nominee will never get a hearing he probably figures he can at least use the guy as a political football. In that sense, Garland makes a much better sword to wield against the Republicans because there will be a perception that there was less reason to reject him.