Arizona legal experts praise Garland nomination, warn against blind opposition

PHOENIX – President Obama’s choice of a moderate judge as his Supreme Court nominee increases pressure on the Senate to begin the confirmation process, something GOP leaders have been staunchly against since Justice Antonin Scalia’s death.

At a Wednesday morning news conference, Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to take Scalia’s seat on the bench. Garland has been the chief judge on the powerful United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit since 2013, but has been on the bench since being appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1997.

Garland’s record and legal acumen have won praise from both sides of the aisle, leading some, including Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, to say the president used the nomination as a political maneuver to force Republicans’ hands on the matter.

Scalia died Feb. 12 while on a hunting trip to Texas. The political conversation immediately turned to whether a president should forward a nominee in an election year.

Republican senators have said in the past month that they will not consider a nominee from Obama. The president and the rest of the Democrats have maintained their assertion that he has the Constitutional obligation to nominate a replacement.

Wes Gullett, who was Arizona Sen. John McCain’s deputy campaign manager in 2000, said Garland’s nomination puts pressure on the Republicans.
“I think the president kind of threw a monkey wrench into the deal by picking somebody who is so vanilla in the process,” Gullett said. “The candidate is such an excellent jurist. He’s fairly conservative on a lot of important issues to Republicans. So you’ve got an interesting situation.”

Both Arizona State University law professor Paul Bender and Gullett agree that Garland would be easily confirmed in a non-election year.

Both Arizona senators, McCain and Jeff Flake, have said they will ignore the nomination, toeing the party line. Flake is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which under the Constitution would be the first stop in the process. But Bender said he should change course in light of Garland’s track record.

“They ought to reconsider that,” Bender said. “The president has the right to make the nomination. He’s still the president. And this is somebody who would be a really good justice and for them to refuse to consider him because it comes from President Obama and they’d rather have somebody much more extreme, that doesn’t seem to me to be appropriate.”

Gullett agreed that the Republicans should reconsider their stance, but said they may not be the only people hoping the nominee is not confirmed.

“If you’re Hillary Clinton, you would probably want to make that pick yourself, but you have to support the president,” Gullett said. “So she’s in a much more awkward position.”

Gullett continued on, saying that though Clinton has issued a statement supporting Obama’s decision, “in the back rooms of her campaign, there’s probably a different conversation going on.”