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Federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland, right, stands with President Barack Obama as he is introduced as Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court during an announcement in the Rose Garden of the White House, in Washington, Wednesday, March 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Md. lawyers say Supreme Court nominee ‘one smart judge’

President Barack Obama nominated Wednesday federal appellate judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, praising his decency and even-handedness.

Garland, 63, is the chief judge of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and would fill the vacancy created by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death last month.

Baltimore attorney Steven M. Klepper argued three times before Merrick in the D.C. Circuit and said each time he walked away thinking, “That is one smart judge.”

Klepper, of Kramon & Graham P.A., said Merrick was always prepared and knew the fine details in the record as well as the attorneys in front of him. In Klepper’s experience, involving insurance and white-collar cases, those records were voluminous.

In one of those cases, Merrick’s opinion changed Klepper’s mind about his stance.

“He is the only judge to write an opinion where he convinced me I was wrong on a point where I passionately believed I was correct,” he said, declining to cite the case.

Maryland state Sen. Jamin B. “Jamie” Raskin lost the only case he argued before Garland.

Raskin, a constitutional law professor, contended that the inability of Washington residents to vote for U.S. senators and representatives violated their constitutional rights to equal protection, a republican form of government and due process. He also argued that the denying the residents a vote abridged their constitutional privileges and immunities as U.S. citizens.

But Garland joined a 2-1 decision in March 2000 that the capital city’s residents do not have those voting rights due to the constitutional provision that members of Congress shall be chosen by “the people of the several states” and the district is not a state.

Despite the loss, Raskin said Garland is “a very serious and thoughtful judge and clearly has respect across the board.”

Klepper said Garland’s opinions won’t “make for memes on social media” but will be very clear and leave no one scratching their heads. For people who want “zingers” in their Supreme Court opinions, which Scalia was known for, Garland is unlikely to deliver, Klepper added.

“He’s not likely to excite very many people, but as the public gets to know him, they will certainly be impressed,” he said.

Republicans hold firm

Obama noted Garland was confirmed to the D.C. Circuit in 1997 with backing from a majority in both parties, including seven current Republicans senators.

Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Democratic leader called Garland’s section, “a bipartisan choice.”

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who spoke to Obama Wednesday morning, said in brief remarks on the Senate floor that Republicans must act on the president’s choice.

“He’s doing his job this morning, they should do theirs,” said the Nevada Democrat.

Republican leaders, however, held to their refusal to consider any nominee, saying the seat should be filled by the next president after this year’s election. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke with Garland by phone but did not change his position that “the American people will have a voice.” He said he would not be holding “a perfunctory meeting but he wished Judge Garland well,” a spokesman said.

Perpetual bridesmaid

For Obama, Garland represents a significant departure from his past two Supreme Court choices. In nominating Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, the president eagerly seized the chance to broaden the court’s diversity and rebalance the overwhelming male institution. Sotomayor was the first Hispanic confirmed to the court, Kagan only the fourth woman.

Garland — a white, male jurist with an Ivy League pedigree and career spent largely in the upper echelon of the Washington’s legal elite — breaks no barriers. He would be the oldest Supreme Court nominee since Lewis Powell, who was 64 when he was confirmed in late 1971.

Presidents tend to appoint young judges with the hope they will shape the court’s direction for as long as possible.

Those factors had, until now, made Garland something of a perpetual bridesmaid, repeatedly on Obama’s Supreme Court lists, but never chosen.

But Garland found his moment at time when Democrats are seeking to apply maximum pressure on Republicans. A key part of their strategy is casting Republicans as knee-jerk obstructionists ready to shoot down a nominee that many in their own ranks once considered a consensus candidate. In 2010, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch called Garland “terrific” and said he could be confirmed “virtually unanimously.”

The White House planned to highlight Hatch’s past support, as well as other glowing comments about Garland from conservative groups.

A native of Chicago and graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, Garland clerked for two appointees of Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower — the liberal U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan Jr. and Judge Henry J. Friendly, for whom Chief Justice John Roberts also clerked.

OKC bombing case

In 1988, Garland gave up a plush partner’s office in a powerhouse law firm to cut his teeth in criminal cases. As an assistant U.S. attorney, he joined the team prosecuting a Reagan White House aide charged with illegal lobbying and did early work on the drug case against then-D.C. Mayor Marion Barry. He held a top-ranking post in the Justice Department when he was dispatched to Oklahoma City the day after bombing at the federal courthouse to supervise the investigation. The case made his career and his reputation. He oversaw the convictions of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, and went on to supervise the investigation into Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.

President Bill Clinton first nominated him to the D.C. Circuit in 1995.

The White House said Wednesday that Garland underwent a physical and is in good health, but said Obama didn’t otherwise consider age a factor. Until now, Garland has been something of a perpetual bridesmaid, repeatedly on Obama’s Supreme Court lists but never chosen.

In emotional remarks in the Rose Garden, he choked back tears, calling the nomination “the greatest honor of my life.” He described his grandparents’ flight from anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe and his modest upbringing. He said he viewed a judge’s job as a mandate to set aside personal preferences and “follow the law, not make it.”

Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer Steve Lash and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

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