Federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland, center, during the announcement of his nomination Wednesday. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP)

President Obama is expected to battle the Republican majority in the U.S. Senate after nominating Merrick Garland, an appeals court judge with a record of challenging the federal government, to fill the Supreme Court seat made vacant by the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.

The Guardian reports:

Merrick Garland, the nominee according to a White House official, now faces an almost insurmountable task of overcoming the dogged resistance of the Republican wing of the Senate that has made clear its intention to boycott any Obama nominee to the nation’s highest court. His nomination puts him at the center of one of the most bitter disputes to erupt between the White House and conservatives in Congress.

At 63, Garland was the oldest of the candidates that Obama shortlisted for the top judicial post. He has more federal judicial experience than any other supreme court nominee in history, according to the White House. His age alone is likely to embolden Republican senators in their contentious opposition to confirming anyone, as it will arm them with ammunition against him based on his long record. …

A native Chicagoan and Harvard graduate, Garland excelled in private law but chose to eschew fat salaries for the less lucrative but arguably more exciting world of public criminal prosecutions. In the immediate aftermath of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that ripped apart a federal building and killed 168 people, he was dispatched to the city to set up the early stages of the prosecution case, winning plaudits for marshaling massive amounts of evidence that led to the convictions of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols.

He was also central to the prosecution of the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski.

He acquired his passion for being a judge by sitting at the feet of the liberal supreme court justice William Brennan, who was a champion of progressive policies such as opposition to the death penalty and support of abortion rights. Garland has had plenty of opportunity to wield similar progressive influence as chief judge of the DC appeals circuit which, given its location, frequently acts as arbiter in major cases concerning the federal government.

At Truthout on Friday, Candice Bernd raised concerns about Merrick’s “mixed” record on campaign finance—an issue at the center of the current presidential race:

Garland is unlike the rest of the president’s list of candidates in that he is a white male and also very experienced, with a 19-year judicial record as a moderate liberal. He served as a prosecutor prior to joining the DC appeals court in 1997, where he became chief judge of the court in 2013. One reason for President Obama’s consideration of him may come in part due to his respect among both Republicans and Democrats, as Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) helped secure his confirmation to the court.

According to Scott Greytak, who is counsel for the campaign finance reform advocacy group Free Speech for People, Garland’s record on campaign finance is somewhat mixed.

The judge sided unanimously with the nine-judge DC federal appeals court in the lesser-known, but hugely impactful extension of the 2010 Citizens United case, SpeechNOW.org v. Federal Election Commission (FEC), which led to the creation of super PACs as we know them today. In the case, the court ruled that for independent organizations that use funds only for “independent expenditures,” campaign contribution limits are unconstitutional. The court simultaneously upheld disclosure requirements for such groups.

“It was a unanimous decision, so perhaps [Garland] felt bound by that jurisprudence, but he was a member of the court that green-lighted the creation of super PACs. So we’ve raised one flag on that,” Greytak told Truthout. “But outside of that … his record with campaign finance is otherwise very solid.” Greytak cited other decisions by Garland, such as upholding a ban last year on contributions from government contractors to federal candidates, upholding a lobbying disclosure statute in 2009 and striking down a myriad of FEC regulations as not stringent.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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