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Order in the court

16 March 2016 By Reynolds Holding

Merrick Garland is a judge that Corporate America can get behind. President Barack Obama’s pick to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court has been tough on crime, deferential to federal agencies – and mostly silent about business issues. Companies can take comfort, though, from his smarts and centrist rulings.

With Senate Republicans vowing to block any Obama nominee, the question could be moot. Garland makes that a tough promise to keep, however. And he may be worth the effort for industry lobbyists to try and dislodge the political intransigence.

Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved Garlands’s 1997 appointment to the Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. At the time, Orrin Hatch, a GOP senator from Utah for nearly 40 years, called him “as good as Republicans can expect.” And earlier this week, Hatch said Garland “is a fine man” whose moderate views would probably prevent him from being Obama’s choice, according to Newsmax.

Senators willing to spend some time considering Garland will find a judge generally resistant to granting appeals to criminals. In at least a dozen cases, he broke with judicial colleagues to back the government’s position. That’s probably not surprising for a former prosecutor who oversaw the Oklahoma City bombing case and the conviction of the Unabomber.

Garland has tended to uphold federal regulations, including those of the Environmental Protection Agency. He even ruled in favor of protecting a species that, in dissent, then-Judge-now-U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts derisively called “a hapless toad.” His decisions also include ones backing free speech, civil rights and the views of workers who challenged their employers.

The Washington appeals court rarely handles corporate disputes, so Garland’s record in such matters is scant. His decisions, however, have been thoughtful, careful and narrowly drawn, avoiding the kind of sweeping pronouncements that are anathema to conservatives. More than a few legal experts call him an unusually neutral judge.

That should be enough to earn support from the business community. The Republican strategy of stalling in hopes of winning the White House and keeping control of the Senate sounds risky. A President Hillary Clinton would portend a Supreme Court nominee even less to the party’s liking. For America’s chief executives, Garland could be – as Hatch might say – as good as it gets.


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