Following the death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, two names were floated as potential choices to replace the esteemed judge on the Supreme Court: Sri Srinivasan and Merrick Garland, both of whom have made President Obama's shortlist along with Paul J. Watford. Whereas Srinivasan and Watford have quite the history with the man who will be making the nomination, Garland has been waiting in the wings for such an opportunity for years, most recently when Obama tapped Sonia Sotomayor to replace retiring Justice David Souter. The Washington, D.C. chief judge was reportedly being considered as a potential nomination even then. Given the fact that Garland has been a potential nominee before — especially so recently and when the country has appeared so divided — many are wondering if Merrick Garland is a liberal.
By many accounts, Garland has been described primarily as a moderate whose record and temperament has attracted the admiration of both Democrats and Republicans, though the backing from the latter may have once been seen as problematic. In a 2010 New York article lobbying for his nomination when he was in the running to succeed a retiring John Paul Stevens, it appeared that his very likability was what may have made it difficult for Democrats to rally behind him. When Committee For Justice Executive Director Curt Levey proclaimed that his nomination hearing would be akin to a "love fest," there was apparent pushback on the left.
A quick look at Garland's experience and voting records confirms his moderate standing for the most part. The esteemed judge has ruled on cases dealing with the National Park Service and the Americans with Disabilities Act, among other issues. In the instances in which Garland ruled on a NPS case, his opinions made it clear that he values regulation when it comes to environmental impact, such as whether conservation organizations can challenge the building of power plants. His ADA rulings were primarily in favor of plaintiffs, offering little in terms of insight on whether Garland leans to the left or the right. However, his criminal justice record has been described as conservative, owing to rulings that favor law enforcement.
The National Review has called foul on the claim that Garland is a tried and true moderate justice, though. The claim is based off of Garland's record regarding gun control in which the judge voted to pave the way for stricter gun laws in D.C. Garland's decision marked a major turning point in restrictions that would prevent gun ownership for those seeking handguns as protective tools for self-defense.
Given the fact that Obama is looking to making sweeping changes when it comes to gun control, this point may count in Garland's favor. It's certainly one of the few liberal stances he's shown in his illustrious career, pointing to the fact that Garland is primarily a moderate when his cumulative rulings and opinions are taken into consideration.