Bio: Born in Chicago; Harvard Law School; Arnold & Porter partner in Washington. Principal associate deputy attorney general in the Justice Department. D.C. Circuit judge since 1997.
If picked: Considered a rigorous, highly intelligent lawyer. Moderately conservative in general. Very conservative on criminal issues.
Lawyers who know him or have observed him variously describe Garland as a “judge’s judge,” a “lawyer’s lawyer kind of guy,” and “Harvard-Harvard.”
Republicans have been touting him as a potential Supreme Court nominee unlikely to face much opposition from their side of the aisle. Garland has earned that distinction because he is seen by them as the most conservative name on President Obama’s list, which is not to say that he is a conservative of the type they would really like to see on the high court. He also fits the non-controversial bill because he has written few decisions setting off Republican alarm bells.
“It’s almost what’s not there that makes him appealing,” said one veteran of the confirmation process. “He’s dealt mostly with administrative law issues and not in a way that would cause either side to be energized.”
But there have been controversial and potentially controversial issues before him. In 2009, for example, he dissented from a decision dismissing a lawsuit against defense contractors for allegedly taking part in the abuse of Abu Ghraib prison detainees on grounds the Iraqi claims were preempted.
On gun rights, likely to be a hot topic in confirmation hearings, one gun rights advocate already has put Garland in the category of “Limited but clearly negative record on right to arms.” David Kopel of the Independence Institute criticizes Garland for joining the 2-1 majority in the 2000 NRA v. Reno. The National Rifle Association lost its lawsuit arguing that federal law required that National Instant Check System records for all retail gun sales be destroyed immediately upon “proceed” or “denial” of the gun purchase. Judge David Tatel wrote the majority opinion upholding the government’s temporary retention of those records; Judge David Sentelle dissented.
Garland led a three-judge panel in 2008 that ordered the first civilian judicial review of government evidence for holding detainees at Guantanamo Bay. In the politically charged Parhat v. Gates, he brought two Republican-appointed colleagues on board to hold that the government failed to prove the reliability of hearsay evidence in finding that a Chinese Uighur was an “enemy combatant.”
In his opinion, Garland, referencing a Lewis Carroll poem, wrote, “Lewis Carroll notwithstanding, the fact that the government has ‘said it thrice’ does not make an allegation true.”
“He is a really dispassionate, moderate voice,” said a colleague.