SCOTUS Nominee’s Record Studied by Nonprofit

     WASHINGTON (CN) — Undertaking a judicial review of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland’s 18 years on the D.C. Circuit, a legal nonprofit heartily endorsed the judge’s appointment Thursday.
     In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell accompanying its 46-page report on Garland, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law called for “fair consideration” of the judge and a vote on the Senate floor.
     It was President John F. Kennedy that had the nonprofit group of lawyers put together in 1963, and 150 of its members signed today’s letter to McConnell, a Kentucky Republican.
     “In our view, and based on his distinguished record, we do not believe that any reasonable senator of any party could find Judge Garland unqualified to sit on the United States Supreme Court,” the committee wrote.
     The committee’s study of Garland’s civil rights records considered opinions the judge wrote or joined during his 18 years on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
     Garland’s tendency to side with the government in appeals from Guantanamo Bay detainees did raise a red flag for the committee, but it otherwise found Garland to be a “fair, moderate and careful” judge on civil rights matters.
     “His consistent mission seems to be to get the case before his panel resolved correctly, based on careful application of settled law to the facts, as narrowly as possible,” the report states.
     The committee also saw it as point of concern that Garland’s background as a former federal prosecutor shines through on the bench. He has rarely overturned criminal convictions and often sided with the government over his “more liberal colleagues.”
     The committee used a two-pronged test to evaluate Garland, first looking for “exceptional competence to serve on the court” before testing for a “profound respect for the importance of protecting the civil rights afforded by the Constitution.”
     Garland passed the first test easily, with the committee finding his credentials “impressive and his experience broad and extensive.”
     “Most of his written decisions are unanimous, which reflects his ability to build a consensus, even on difficult legal issues,” the report reads. “It is instructive that despite a huge body of written opinions in the D.C. Circuit – several hundred – there is no reflection of his personal views on political or social issues.”
     The second test, however, proved more difficult, as the committee was not able to find the “large body” of information to fully evaluate Garland it would typically prefer. Nevertheless, it looked beyond the relative lack of information and found that Garland “has demonstrated views that are consistent with core civil rights principles.”
     The committee broke its analysis into five separate categories of cases: employment, housing, voting, education and environmental justice. It found his record most extensive in employment cases, while the other cases gave few opinions or statements for the nonprofit to consider.
     In employment discrimination cases, the nonprofit found Garland patient, often allowing plaintiffs to move to the discovery phase rather than throwing complaints out immediately. It also found Garland came down equally as often in favor of employees as he did in favor of employers in such cases.
     “One significant theme that emerges from Judge Garland’s authored employment discrimination opinions is a reluctance to grant motions to dismiss, coupled with the view that plaintiffs are entitled to develop a thorough record upon which the court may then determine the sufficiency of the claims,” the report states.
     The other categories gave the committee little to go on of substance, but it generally found him to be committed to civil rights when he had the chance to render such an opinion.
     Almost immediately after the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in February, McConnell and the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee vowed to not hold hearings on any nominee President Barack Obama would choose to replace the conservative justice.
     Calling the decision too controversial for an election year, Senate Republicans want Obama’s successor to fill Scalia’s vacant seat.
     Obama nevertheless announced Garland’s nomination in March before lawmakers and reporters in the Rose Garden.
     Republican opposition has softened somewhat in the time since the announcement, with a handful of senators, including Judiciary Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, taking meetings with Garland. Still, Democrats continue to hound their colleagues, often repeating the phrase “do your job” or some variation in press conferences and speeches.
     In the letter that accompanied its report, the committee joined the Democrats’ calls and encouraged McConnell to evaluate any concerns about Garland’s record in an open hearing warning the senator that a hamstrung Supreme Court could be dangerous.
     “Allowing the court to proceed without nine justices will have damaging collateral consequences that would be felt across our entire federal judicial system for years to come,” the letter reads. “Indeed, we are beginning to see, in the context of decisions recently issued and those under consideration, the deleterious impact of a stalemate at the court on our system of justice.”

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