In any other political environment, Merrick Garland, the man nominated by President Obama to take Antonin Scalia's spot on the Supreme Court, wouldn't be a particularly controversial choice. He's got impeccable credentials, has been a justice on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in D.C. for nearly 20 years and has won praise across the political spectrum. Orrin Hatch, the longstanding Republican senator from Utah and three-time chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, heaped praise on Garland in the past, identifying the Harvard Law School graduate as the type of nominee that could be easily confirmed by the Senate.
Even in Texas, the response to Garland seems to depend largely on the political stake people have in the game. Ken Starr himself, the notorious conservative lawyer who led the investigation into President Bill Clinton's White House marital dalliances in the '90s, announced strong support for Garland on Wednesday afternoon.
“The President has made a very wise choice. Chief Judge Garland is a brilliant jurist who believes in and upholds the rule of law undergirding our constitutional republic. I have known him well for many years. He is superbly qualified to serve on our nation’s highest court,” said Starr, now president of Baylor University.
Those still with skin in the political game, despite Garland's nearly universally recognized aptitude and centrist reputation, acted as if the sky was falling. Take Senator Ted Cruz, who's trailing Donald Trump for the GOP presidential nomination and, somehow, linked Obama's choice to Trump.
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"Merrick Garland is exactly the type of Supreme Court nominee you get when you make deals in Washington D.C. A so-called ‘moderate’ Democrat nominee is precisely the kind of deal that Donald Trump has told us he would make – someone who would rule along with other liberals on the bench like Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor. Make no mistake, if Garland were confirmed, he would side predictably with President Obama on critical issues such as undermining the Second Amendment, legalizing partial-birth abortion, and propping up overreaching bureaucratic agencies like the EPA and the IRS. We cannot afford to lose the Supreme Court for generations to come by nominating or confirming someone that a dealmaker like Donald Trump would support. Washington dealmakers cannot be trusted with such crucial lifetime appointments.
I proudly stand with my Republican colleagues in our shared belief – our advice and consent – that we should not vote on any nominee until the next president is sworn into office. The People will decide. I commend Mitch McConnell and Chuck Grassley for holding the line and ensuring that We the People get to exercise our authority to decide the direction of the Supreme Court and the Bill of Rights."
Texas' other senator, John Cornyn, responded to the nomination by posting a survey on his website asking a not-at-all loaded question: "Do you agree that Texans and the American people deserve a say in the selection of the next lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court?"
Someone commented impishly that "Texans, and Americans, deserve to have a say. President Obama was elected TWICE by the American people. He has done his job by nominating a candidate. Now you AND the rest of the senators need to do the job you were elected to and carefully consider his candidate." Cornyn jumped in the comments himself, telling the commenter, Nancy Smith, that the 2014 midterms that handed Republicans the keys to the Senate prove that the American people want he and his GOP brethren to serve as a check on the Obama administration.
Garland won't be confirmed until the end of the year at the earliest — Senate Republicans said Wednesday that they might confirm him in the lame duck session if Hillary Clinton wins the general election in November. Even if he were, however, it is unclear the effect he would have on the state of Texas. During his current gig, he's shown a willingness to uphold Environmental Protection Agency regulations under the Endangered Species Act, but has no record on abortion. If he were confirmed this spring, Garland would have every right to cast a vote on the Texas abortion restriction challenge argued at the Supreme Court earlier this month — or on affirmative action, the issue at the center of Abigail Fischer's challenge of the University of Texas' admissions policy, which will be heard by the court in December.