I had the privilege of meeting U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia twice.  First I met him when he visited the University of Illinois College of Law while I was a student there; the second time was several years ago when he visited again while I was on the school’s Board of Advisors.  He was a fascinating jurist, and every bit the conservative Constitutional purist for which he is being remembered.  Now that a successor has been selected, at least in form if not in substance, I have felt the need to reflect.

President Barack Obama appears to have made a moderate choice in choosing Federal Judge Merrick Garlandto replace Scalia on the Supreme Court.  He is often described as middle-of-the-road, as opposed to Scalia’s stanch and unwavering conservative positions.  He has served for 19 years on the U.S. Court of Appeals.  Prior to becoming a Judge, Garland was born in Chicago and attended Niles West High School in Skokie, Illinois.  He was a brilliant student who excelled in just about everything he did.

While putting himself through Harvard Law School, Garland worked as a tutor and a clerk stocking shelves in a shoe store. After law school, Garland clerked for Judge Henry Friendly in the second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and later he clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan. He rose to partnership at the prominent law firm of Arnold & Porter, but then left the firm to become a federal prosecutor. He advanced to the U.S. Justice Department, where he supervised the prosecution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.

Garland has said his mother instilled in him the importance of public service, while his father stressed the importance of hard work and fair dealing. “Fidelity to the Constitution and the law has been the cornerstone of my professional life, and it is the hallmark of the kind of judge I have tried to be for the past 18 years,” Garland has said.

Of course, if Garland is to replace the conservative Scalia we must dive into his opinions and read between the lines. Although a self-proclaimed moderate, Garland certainly has some liberal views.  On guns, he has voted for a review of a three-judge panel's opinion that a handgun ban in the nation’s capital was unconstitutional, clearly suggesting that he disagreed with the opinion.  The Supreme Court later sided with the panel, all this case became a major win for gun rights that Republicans still adhere to today.

Garland, however, also has voted conservatively.  On Guantanamo Bay, Garland joined an opinion that detainees did not have a right to judicial review of their status in federal court, a position that is agreeable to most conservatives. Beyond these two examples researchers will no doubt delve through Garland’s writings and teachings in an infinite extent to decipher his politics. Whether any of this will reach a confirmation hearing, of course, remains a question.

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