U.S. Supreme Court - The FindLaw U.S. Supreme Court Opinion Summaries Blog

Highlights From Merrick Garland's Senate Questionnaire

Merrick Garland, chief judge of the D.C. Circuit and President Obama's pick for the Supreme Court, submitted his completed questionnaire to the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday. The questionnaire is a routine part of the Supreme Court nomination process -- and, given the unprecedented fight over Garland's nomination, part of the White House's attempt to pressure the Senate into acting. (The Judiciary Committee hadn't even requested that Garland complete the questionnaire.)

We read the whole thing, so you don't have to. (Alright, we read some of it. The full response included thousands of pages of supporting documents. The public version is a mere 142 pages long.) Here are some of the highlights.

Garland's Most Important Opinions, In His Own Eyes

As a jurist, Chief Judge Garland is known for being pro-government, pro-environment, and pro-prosecutor. Our collection of Garland's most important opinions reflects this: they demand agency action on environmental issues, for example, or are sometimes unsympathetic to detainees.

But Garland would give a slightly different characterization of his record. In the survey, he highlighted decisions in favor of Endangered Species Act protections (not unusual), as well as those in which he tossed criminal convictions and sided with detained enemy combatants (slightly more unusual).

Garland even included Saleh v. Titan Corp, in which he dissented, arguing that abused Abu Ghraib detainees should have the right to pursue state tort claims against their abusers. That opinion was one of two dissents Garland called out in his top 10 -- a large number, considering he made only 18 dissents in his nearly 20 years on the D.C. Circuit.

Here's Garland's full list:

  1. Cause of Action v. FTC (2015), which made it easier for news organizations to get fee waivers when making Freedom of Information Act requests.
  2. Wagner v. FEC (2015), upholding the constitutionality of limits on campaign contributions by federal contractors.
  3. ACLU v. CIA (2013), requiring the CIA to disclose whether it had records of drone strikes.
  4. United States v. Gaskins (2012), overturning a conviction on conspiracy to distribute narcotics.
  5. Saleh v. Titan Corp (2009) (dissent), arguing that Abu Ghraib prisoners should be able to pursue state law claims.
  6. Parhat v. Gates (2008), requiring strong evidence of connection to terrorist ties before detaining suspects as enemy combatants.
  7. United States ex rel. Totten v. Bombardier Corp. (2004) (dissent), arguing for broader liability under the False Claims Act.
  8. Rancho Viejo v. Norton (2003), upholding the application of the Endangered Species Act to a real estate development, rejecting Commerce Clause challenges.
  9. Sparrow v. United Air Lines (2000), making it easier to bring an employment discrimination lawsuit.
  10. Anderson v. Zubieta (1999), overturning the dismissal of an employment discrimination and racial bias lawsuit.

Qualifications: Garland Was Also a High School Nerd

Garland's Supreme Court qualifications are well known. He's a Harvard Law grad, a former prosecutor who took on Timothy McVeigh and Ted Kaczynski, and an accomplished judge. But he was also a pretty accomplished teenager.

Garland was a Presidential Scholar in 1970, meaning he aced his SATs and beat out thousands of competitors to be labeled one of the top young scholars in the U.S.

Supreme Court Practice via Shakespeare

Garland has authored more than 350 opinions during his time on the D.C. Circuit. Not a single one has been overturned by the Supreme Court.

But not only is Garland skilled at solving real life disputes, he regularly takes on fictional ones. According to his survey, Garland takes part every year in mock trials with D.C.'s Shakespeare Theatre Company, helping decide important cases like Latin Herald v. Coriolanus, Claudio v. Hero, and the famous, but non-Shakespearean In re: Don Quixote.

Still a Mystery: Garland's Finances

The survey is also notable for what it did not include. Garland did not provide information on his net worth, though the White House has said it would release those forms if the Senate Judiciary Committee requests them.

Related Resources: