Friday, May 6, 2016

Lawyers’ Committee Releases Report Evaluating Supreme Court Nominee Judge Merrick Garland’s Full Record on Civil Rights Cases

Chief Judge Merrick Garland

May 5, 2016

More than 150 Attorneys Across Country Sign Statement Urging Senate to Immediately Commence Hearings Following Passage of 50 Days Since President Identified Court Nominee

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee) released its report evaluating the full civil rights record of Supreme Court nominee Chief Judge Merrick Garland. The report provides an examination of his record on cases concerning voting rights, employment, housing, criminal justice, education and access to justice issues – matters central to the Lawyers’ Committee’s mission. As Judge Garland has served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit for 18 years, the analysis is based primarily on the opinions he has authored or joined as a judge on that court.
In addition to the report, the Lawyers’ Committee also issued a statement joined by more than 150 members of its Board of Directors located across the country to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, urging the Senate to fulfill its constitutional role and grant Judge Garland fair consideration and a full Senate vote. The statement also expresses concern regarding the current stalemate at the Supreme Court, which impairs the Court’s ability to resolve some of the most significant civil rights cases and controversies that routinely come before the Court.
“The Supreme Court occupies a central place in American democracy as the arbiter of some of the most complex and impactful cases that typically arise across our country,” said Lawyers’ Committee President and Executive Director Kristen Clarke.  “However, the ability of the Court to effectively resolve the complex cases that come before it is undermined when elected officials use politics as a reason to prolong the vacancy created in the wake of Justice Scalia’s death.  We believe that Judge Garland possesses the exceptional competence necessary to serve on the Court and urge the Senate to move forward with hearings to give the public an opportunity to learn more about his commitment to fair interpretation of civil rights laws.”
Since its creation in 1963 at the urging of President John F. Kennedy, the Lawyers’ Committee has been devoted to the recognition and enforcement of civil rights in the United States. While we have seen significant progress, the challenges of unlawful discrimination remain. Recognizing the Supreme Court’s critical role in civil rights enforcement and the central role that the Court plays in our democracy, the Lawyers’ Committee has long reviewed the record of nominees to the Court to determine if the nominee demonstrates views that are consistent with the core civil rights principles for which we have long advocated.
In evaluating nominees to the Court, the Lawyers’ Committee has employed a rigorous standard with two distinct components: (1) exceptional competence to serve on the Court based on education, experience and engagement in the legal system at the highest levels of responsibility, and (2) profound respect for the importance of protecting the civil rights afforded by the Constitution and the nation’s civil rights laws based on a large body of civil rights opinions or comparable information from statements and activities other than service on the bench.
“While Judge Garland does not have an extensive body of opinions in civil rights cases, his decisions have been consistent with core civil rights principles,” Clarke added.
Highlights of Judge Garland’s Civil Rights Record:
  • Judge Garland’s authored opinions in civil rights cases show him to be fair but moderate and generally careful in going no further than the relevant statutes and precedent warrant.
  • Most of the civil rights opinions he has authored are in employment cases. He has shown a tendency in those cases to side with discrimination plaintiffs in overcoming motions to dismiss. This suggests his support for the notion that cases alleging actionable discrimination should advance at least to the discovery stage.
  • In other categories of civil rights cases – housing, voting, education and environmental justice – Judge Garland does not have as many written opinions, but those he has written are consistent with his opinions in employment cases.
  • He supports claims to the extent they are actionable under the relevant statute and binding precedent. There is no hint in Judge Garland’s written opinions of a political agenda or an interest in advancing his personal judicial philosophy. He is guided by the statutory text and clear precedent and, in cases of unsettled questions that require statutory interpretation, the statute’s remedial purpose and Congressional intent.
  • With respect to the criminal justice issues currently in center focus for the Lawyers’ Committee – racial disparities in arrest, conviction and sentencing rates, clemency for nonviolent offenders, barriers to reentry, right to counsel, debtors’ prisons, etc. – Judge Garland has not written any opinions directly on point. With respect to the scores of opinions he has written in criminal appeals, however, he appears to lean toward an understanding of the cases from the perspective of the prosecutor.  In cases involving claims by prisoners, he has shown a willingness to carefully examine the facts of the case and allow the claims to be heard fully and fairly.             

About The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
The Lawyers' Committee, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. The Lawyers' Committee celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2013 as it continued its quest of "Moving America Toward Justice." The principal mission of the Lawyers' Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice under law, particularly in the areas of fair housing and fair lending, community development, employment, voting, education and environmental justice.

For more information about the Lawyers' Committee, visit

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