5 things to know about Obama's SCOTUS nominee and its healthcare implications

President Barack Obama Wednesday nominated Merrick Garland, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Chief Judge Garland has more years of experience as a federal judge than any current member of the high court, according to The New York Times, and generally garners bipartisan support. Even Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) this week told conservative media outlet NewsMax, "[Obama] could easily name Merrick Garland, who is a fine man."

What could his nomination mean for the Supreme Court, and what could it mean for healthcare? Here are five things to know about Chief Judge Garland's political leanings and their implications in the healthcare sphere.

1. Chief Judge Garland is considered evenhanded. "Not only is Merrick enormously gifted intellectually, but he is thoughtful as well, for he respects other points of view and fairly and honestly assesses the merits of all sides of an issue," wrote Charles Cooper, assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel to the Reagan Administration in 1995. "And he has a stable, even-tempered, and courteous manner. He would comport himself on the bench with dignity and fairness."

2. However, political scientists say he could tip the court balance to the liberal wing. According to The New York Times, "If Judge Garland is confirmed, he could tip the ideological balance to create the most liberal Supreme Court in 50 years." An analysis featured in the Times report from four political scientists gauges that Chief Judge Garland likely lies between Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan on a scale of political leaning. In other words, he would be the third most liberal justice on the high court.

3. He brings some fresh perspectives. Chief Judge Garland is from Illinois, which would make him only the second justice from the Midwest, and at age 63 he would be among the oldest justices ever appointed. However, he is a white male Harvard graduate who comes from the D.C. Circuit, which is in keeping with most of the other justices, according to The New York Times.

4. His views on cases in the Supreme Court remain a bit unclear. While he generally leans left, "he is seen as leaning toward the government in criminal cases," according to Politico. He generally favors agency decisionmakers too, according to a 2010 SCOTUSblog. For example, he has supported National Labor Relations Board decisions in quite a few cases, and in the 2006 case Alpharma v. Leavitt, he upheld the Food and Drug Administration's determination to approve a drug, according to SCOTUSblog. However, many still want to know more about his views. "Judge Garland does not have a public record on reproductive rights and Senate Republicans' obstruction denies all of us our right to know where this nominee stands on core constitutional questions of women's privacy, dignity and equality," NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue said, according to Politico.

5. President Obama's pick might not have any immediate effect on the Supreme Court or on healthcare. With the support of other Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has promised to continue to stiff-arm a hearing so that the vacancy can be filled by the next president, an action backed by remarks from Vice President Joe Biden in 1992 when he was Senate Judiciary Chairman, according to The Hill. In the meantime, the Supreme Court has already begun to hear arguments on some major healthcare cases this month, including Whole Women's Health v. Cole, the first major abortion case in the high court in nine years. On March 23, it will hear arguments on Zubik v. Burwell, which challenges the contraception mandate under the Affordable Care Act. In the case Chief Judge Garland is not appointed to the high court, these cases and others will continue with eight justices.


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