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11 things you should read to understand Supreme Court pick Merrick Garland

Merrick Garland speaks in the Rose Garden after being nominated to the Supreme Court by President Obama.
Merrick Garland speaks in the Rose Garden after being nominated to the Supreme Court by President Obama.
(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Merrick Garland has been well-known in elite legal circles for years, but his nomination to the Supreme Court puts him in the national spotlight for the first time.

As the country gets to know Garland, we wanted to give you an idea about who he is and what he's accomplished by rounding up some of the most important reading material for understanding President Barack Obama's pick.

What to read to learn about Garland's legal views

"The Potential Nomination of Merrick Garland" | Tom Goldstein, SCOTUSBlog, April 2010

One really great introduction to Garland was written back in 2010, when he was first under consideration for the high court, by SCOTUSBlog's Tom Goldstein. Goldstein provides a broad overview of Garland's path to the Circuit Court and attempts to offer a synthesis of Garland's judicial philosophy.

"Judge Garland's record demonstrates that he is essentially the model, neutral judge," Goldstein writes. "His opinions avoid unnecessary, sweeping pronouncements."

Merrick Garland speaks at the Rose Garden ceremony at which President Barack Obama nominated him to the Supreme Court.
Merrick Garland speaks at the Rose Garden ceremony at which President Barack Obama nominated him to the Supreme Court.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty

"Initial thoughts on President Obama’s decision to nominate Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court" | Jonathan Adler, the Volokh Conspiracy, March 2016

Like Goldstein, Adler offers a bird's-eye view on Garland's approach to the law and tries to suss out how the new justice, if confirmed, would tip the balance of the Supreme Court.

"If I had to make a prediction, I would expect a Justice Garland to be more moderate, or closer to the center of the court, than is Justice Sonia Sotomayor, but it is hard to tell," Adler says.

He also takes a crack at guessing at how a Justice Garland would handle important realms of law — from criminal justice (where he'd likely be unsympathetic to defendants) to gun rights (where he'd probably shift the Court left) to abortion (where nobody knows what Garland would do).

Where to learn about Garland's handling of important cases

"Court Orders the C.I.A. to Disclose Drone Data" | Charlie Savage, New York Times, March 2013

Garland's record will be the subject of extensive scrutiny over the course of his nominating process — assuming Republicans go through with one — so it's worth looking back at some of his most important decisions as a circuit court judge.

Savage's piece, in which Garland rejected an Obama administration effort to "keep secret any aspect of the CIA's interest in the use of drone strikes," is worth reading as a window into the judge's thinking on security issues.

"Snark Injection for Guantanamo Trial" | Mike Nizza, New York Times, June 2008

In 2008, Garland turned to Lewis Carroll's absurdist 1876 poem "The Hunting of the Snark" to ridicule the Bush legal team's defense for submitting essentially similar pieces of evidence three times in a row.

Here's Garland's written opinion US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit:

Lewis Carroll notwithstanding, the fact that the government has "said it thrice" does not make an allegation true. See LEWIS CARROLL, THE HUNTING OF THE SNARK 3 (1876) ("I have said it thrice: What I tell you three times is true."). In fact, we have no basis for concluding that there are independent sources for the documents’ thrice-made assertions.

The ruling sharply rebuked the Bush administration, though Vox's Dylan Matthews notes it also effectively barred Guantanamo detainees from seeking relief in US courts.

"How green are Obama's potential Supreme Court picks?" | Jonathan Hiskes, Grist, April 2010

This Grist piece offers a quick roundup of multiple Supreme Court candidates' views on environmental policy. The main evidence for evaluating Garland's possible record came, according to Grist, in 2004, when Garland found that "the Bush EPA had deliberately dragged its feet on smog standards."

Who has embraced Garland's record and why

"Merrick Garland, President Obama’s Sensible Supreme Court Choice" | Lincoln Caplan, the New Yorker, March 2016

Written by a friend, this column provides an unapologetic defense of the justice. "It exemplifies the work of a judge who is moderate by conviction," Caplan writes of one of Garland's rulings, "while making clear that being moderate does not mean stinting on upholding essential democratic safeguards, like those against threats to good government."

Still, this ringing endorsement is a perspective that may be worth keeping in mind over the course of what is likely to be a months-long battle in which both conservatives and liberals could find reasons to attack Garland's record.

Garland working with the Justice Department in the 1990s. Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Garland working for the Justice Department in the 1990s. (Bill O'Leary/Washington Post/Getty Images)

"The Case for Merrick Garland on the Supreme Court" | Benjamin Wittes, Newsweek, April 2010

Also written when Garland was first up for the Court in 2010, Wittes's column lavishes praise on him as someone uniquely adept at finding the middle ground between partisan factions. Wittes also suggests a compelling theory that still stands up well — that President Obama would be particularly drawn to Garland's ability to bridge bitter ideological divides.

Who has opposed Garland's record and why

The ‘Moderates’ Are Not So Moderate: Merrick Garland | Carrie Severino, National Review, March 2016

Some conservatives were quick on Wednesday to say that Garland would oppose the Second Amendment, noting that he wanted to reopen a case after the courts struck down DC's handgun ban.

Severino writes that Garland has also voted to "uphold an illegal Clinton-era regulation that created an improvised gun registration requirement" — a criticism we're likely to hear from Republicans if nomination proceedings go through.

Where to learn about Garland as a person

"How Bombing Case Helped Shape Career of a Potential Justice" | Charlie Savage, New York Times, April 2010

In his Rose Garden remarks today, Obama spoke extensively about how Garland's role in responding to the Oklahoma City bombing as a prosecutor changed the nominee's life and worldview.

This moving profile from the Times supports Obama's assessment, offering an emotional, human portrayal of a man perhaps soon to be shrouded in the baroque Supreme Court.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

"Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland has strong ties to Harvard University" | Andy Rosen, Boston Globe, March 2016

The Boston Globe offers a more local lens through which to get to know Garland. The journey begins with Garland paying tuition through work as a shoe store clerk and culminates with the judge's rise to some of Harvard University's most important positions.

My favorite detail: While working at the Harvard newspaper in 1973, Garland wrote an article for the school newspaper about an effort to give students free McDonald's hamburgers if they participated in a blood drive.

"Pinter in Progression" | Merrick Garland, the Harvard Crimson, March 1973

Some people shy away from accepting a nomination to the Supreme Court because doing so exposes their entire lives to scrutiny from the press.

One reason to fear that scrutiny? The writing that many of us do in college doesn't hold up so well several decades later.

Garland apparently had a stint at the Harvard Crimson as a theater critic, and, though his reviews generally stand up pretty well, the seriousness of some of his writing might make him cringe a bit now.

"MOREOVER, THE PROGRESS of human isolation is now complete as well," he writes in one.