There’s no denying that President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland is qualified for the job.
Garland graduated summa cum laude from Harvard University and Harvard Law School. He clerked for U.S. Court of Appeals for Second Circuit Judge Henry Friendly and Supreme Court Justice William Brennan. He rose through the ranks at a prestigious law firm and became partner in only four years and moved on to federal prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for D.C. He later was selected as the Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division at the Department of Justice and as Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General. Bill Clinton appointed Garland to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1997 and he became Chief Judge in 2013.
Suffice it to say Garland is qualified to serve on the high court. He is not, however, the polar opposite to Justice Scalia that most Black women deserve. His record on criminal justice is disappointingly conservative, departing with the majority of his liberal colleagues and passing on opportunities to adopt positions favorable to defendants. Garland voted to limit defendant rights in search and seizure cases and voted in favor of prosecutors in cases of prosecutorial misconduct – a matter of great concern for Black women. Garland’s prosecutorial background makes his rulings in criminal cases unsurprising but still disappointing in a nominee that would be joining the Court at a time of great divide between the Black community and law enforcement.
Because Garland’s court hears mostly administrative matters, he rarely has the opportunity to weigh in on issues that often divide the country such as abortion, same-sex marriage and Second Amendment rights. In fact, no one can say exactly where Garland stands on abortion rights.
Although Black women overwhelmingly supported President Obama at the polls, the majority are not likely to express the same level of support for his nominee. It is clear that Obama’s strategy is more concerned with Senate Republicans than the issues that matter most to the liberal base. Many express disappointment that an opportunity for increased representation of African Americans will be lost. Though Judge Garland is clearly not Justice Scalia, he is still reflective of the privilege and disconnect from crucial social issues that many White men of his generation represent.
There were several qualified, respected judges on Obama’s list that Black women may have preferred. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, a judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia is imminently qualified, having served as vice chairman of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, worked as an attorney in private practice and served as a federal public defender. She is a former law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit Judge Bruce M. Selya, U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts Judge Patti B. Saris and a graduate of Harvard Law School. Other judges on the list were Sri Srinivasan, a U.S. Court of Appeals judge for the D.C. Circuit and Paul Watford, a U.S. Court of Appeals judge for the Ninth Circuit.
It is clear that Black women will be more pleased with President Obama’s earlier selections – liberal Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, than Garland. The battle the Republicans intend to wage may mean that President Obama, or November’s victor, will have another opportunity to satiate the powerful voting block of Black women.
Midwin Charles is founder of the law firm Midwin Charles & Associates LLC. She provides regular commentary on law, pop culture and politics for various television shows & networks—including New Day, Legal Views, and CNN Tonight on CNN; Nancy Grace on HLN; and Hardball with Chris Matthews on MSNBC; and serves as a guest host for Express Yourself on New York’s 107.5 WBLS-FM. Follow her on Twitter @midwincharles.