A Mensch on the Bench

A judicial temperament involves many qualities. For Merrick Garland, patience is one of them.

On March 16, President Barack Obama ’91 nominated Merrick Garland ’77 to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Currently chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Garland has served on the appellate bench for almost two decades, after a high-profile role as U.S. Justice Department prosecutor supervising investigations into the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski, among others. Dean Martha Minow described Garland as “an outstanding, meticulous, and thoughtful judge with a superb career of public service.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McCon­nell (R., Ky.) has delayed action on the nomination. As Obama presses for a hearing, Garland is poised for the confirmation process. (The Senate confirmed him to the D.C. Circuit by a vote of 76-23.)
A highly regarded jurist, Garland has stayed connected to Harvard Law School since receiving his degree nearly four decades ago. He has returned to campus on a number of occasions to share his perspectives with students and to judge moot court competitions. In 2006 and again in 2013, he was part of the three-judge panel presiding over the law school’s Ames Moot Court Competition.

Merrick Garland listening to arguments by an Ames finalist

Credit: Martha Stewart Judge Merrick Garland listening to arguments by an Ames finalist during the 2013 competition.

In 2010, Garland came to HLS to speak with students in a trial advocacy class taught by Professor Charles Ogletree ’78, a friend from their student days. He engaged them in a Q&A about careers in the law, and he drew from his experience.
Another classmate, Professor William Alford ’77, called Garland an extraordinarily impressive person. “When we were students, he was well known throughout the law school not only for being enormously intelligent, but for his thoughtfulness and decency—for being a real mensch,” Alford said.

Professor Laurence Tribe ’66 has known Garland and “admired him greatly” ever since he was a student in Tribe’s advanced constitutional law class in 1975-1976. “No sitting judge in the country, state or federal, has a more stellar reputation as a thoughtful analyst with a firm commitment to the rule of law and to the proper reach of the judicial role,” Tribe told the Harvard Gazette. “And that stellar reputation is one that Judge Garland has amply earned. To put it simply, he would be a truly great Supreme Court justice.”