OPINION

Opinion: Why Latinos should support Merrick Garland nomination

Judge Merrick Garland, President Obama's choice to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.

Judge Merrick Garland, President Obama's choice to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.  (ap)

Last week President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland, was back on Capitol Hill. On Thursday he made his 50th visit to one of the hundred senators who could potentially vote on his confirmation. Garland, chief judge of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, called on Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). Afterwards Merkley said, “President Obama has done his job in putting forward an extremely qualified nominee. Now it is time for Senate Republicans to do theirs and to hold hearings and a vote on his nomination, as the Constitution requires.”

The integrity of our judicial system must be respected. Latinos and all Americans deserve a full Senate hearing and vote on Garland’s nomination. 

- Raul A. Reyes

Not only is the senator right, there are reasons why Latinos should back Garland’s nomination. Hispanics have much at stake in the current term, and we need a fully functional Supreme Court. Garland has strong support from leading Latino advocacy groups. Most importantly, he is a principled jurist who can be trusted to stand above politics and serve as a centrist voice on the Court.

Right now the Court is still considering cases and making rulings. That’s good news, right?  Actually, it is not, because the Court is operating in what the New York Times has termed a “diminished” state. With only eight members since the death of Antonin Scalia, the justices have shied away from making sweeping rulings, instead issuing narrow opinions or sending cases back to the lower courts. Just last week, they punted on a case challenging the contraception mandate of the Affordable Care Act; in Zubik v. Burwell, the justices told the parties to go back to the lower courts and try to resolve the issue there. They did the same thing with another recent case involving class actions against corporations. The Court is existing in a kind of limbo until its next member is confirmed, a situation that is hardly ideal for our justice system or for the country. Consider that the last time it took over a hundred days to vote on a Supreme Court nominee, we were in the Civil War. Or that Hispanics have historically turned to the Court to win our full civil rights.

Latinos should be concerned about the real possibility of a tie on the Court, given that the justices are currently considering major cases on affirmative action, executive action on immigration, and Texas’ restrictions on abortion. The justices are also weighing the right of a Hispanic man to challenge alleged racial bias on a jury. When the high court reaches a tie, as could happen in any of these cases, the lower court decision stands. But that ruling only applies in the jurisdiction that brought the case, and no precedent is created. In such instances, it is as if the Supreme Court case never happened at all.

Whatever one’s view on the constitutionality of President Obama’s executive action on immigration, it is safe to say that most Americans want this case settled. Yet that is unlikely to happen, given the ideological leanings of the Court. Most likely we will see a tie, and then another legal challenge all over again. This is why Garland’s nomination deserves to move ahead – so that the Court can function as our Constitution intended.  

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No wonder Latino advocacy and civic groups have lined up to support Garland. He has been endorsed by the Hispanic National Bar Association. The National Council of La Raza’s president called Garland “eminently qualified and perhaps one of the most experienced candidates to have ever received a Supreme Court nomination.”  The Hispanic Federation, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus have also praised him. The leadership of these groups recognizes that Garland is a thoughtful candidate worthy of consideration by the Senate. Unfortunately, in a show of partisan obstructionism, Senate Republicans decided against granting Obama’s Supreme Court pick a hearing or a vote even before Garland was nominated.

To their credit, several Republican senators have met with Garland. However, these meetings were private and behind closed doors. The public should have the opportunity to see Garland questioned about his legal views and experience. Such transparency is a hallmark of a true democracy. If Republican lawmakers still have doubts about Garland, then they can vote against him.

The integrity of our judicial system must be respected. Latinos and all Americans deserve a full Senate hearing and vote on Garland’s nomination. 

Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and columnist in New York City.

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