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A look at Merrick Garland’s background

March 16, 2016 by NCC Staff


Merrick Garland, President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, already holds one of the most-important judicial positions in the country. Here is a brief overview of Garland’s background, and some prominent decisions from his career.

Obama Garland speaksGarland, 63, is the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. He graduated with honors from Harvard University and Harvard Law School, and he then clerked for Judge Henry Friendly on the Second Circuit and for Supreme Court Justice William Brennan.

Garland then spent time in public service as an Assistant United States Attorney and as a Justice Department official. As an Associate Deputy Attorney General in the Justice Department, Garland coordinated the prosecution of Unabomber suspect Theodore J. Kaczynski.  Garland also oversaw the prosecutions of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols in the Oklahoma City bombing case.

President Bill Clinton nominated Garland twice to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. During his nomination hearings, he told Senators that John Marshall, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Brennan were among the Supreme Court Justices he admired. After his first nomination was delayed in 1995, Garland won confirmation by a 76-23 vote in 1997, with 32 Republicans supporting his nomination.

Garland became the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in February 2013. Garland also has been long-rumored as a Supreme Court nominee, and was reportedly on President Obama’s short list in 2010.

Garland has been labeled as a moderate in the legal press. Among his prominent decisions on the federal appeals court was Al Odah v. United States. Garland was part of a panel that said federal district courts lacked habeas corpus jurisdiction over the Guantanamo detainees' claims.  The Supreme Court later reversed that opinion.

Garland also voted for a full review of the D.C. Circuit's decision invalidating a handgun ban, without taking a position on that case; the decision was later affirmed by the Supreme Court.

In addition, Garland wrote for the D.C. appeals court in 2015 in Wagner v. Federal Election Commission, when it upheld a long-time ban on federal contractors making federal campaign contributions.

In 2014, Garland led a three-judge appeals panel that upheld the conviction of a former U.S. House committee staff member for illegally taking sports tickets and a strip club visit in return for influencing on a federal highway bill.

Garland also sat on a panel that said the federal government was allowed to hold Osama bin Laden’s corpse and burial pictures from public release.  Garland also wrote a decision for a three-judge appeals panel that ruled the CIA had to acknowledge that it had documents related to the federal government’s use of drone strikes in the targeted killing of terror suspects.

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