Nothing has epitomised the presidency of Barack Obama quite like his Supreme Court nominees. Time and again, Republican presidents will blithely nominate right wing ideological extremists (Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas) who only sometimes misfire and turn out to be liberals in disguise (David Souter). Yet Obama has consistently skipped over the judicially qualified liberals and gone for a succession of centrists (Elena Kagan in particular, Sonia Sotomayor only a bit less so) that now include 63 year old Merrick Garland, whose qualifications include a police-friendly stance on evidence admissibility that would warm the cockles of any ‘Three Strikes and You’re Out’ hardliner. Hardly the best qualification when the “Tough on Crime” era of politics is now something of an anachronism.
But that’s Obama for you. Given the chance to promote liberal to left agendas, and he’ll take the centrist, moderate path of appeasement every time, even in the face of consistent evidence that the Republicans will treat any and all of his Supreme Court nominees as if they were card-carrying members of the Communist Party, regardless. Which is, of course, the political point that Obama is trying to make via the Garland appointment – that Republicans are reliably, pig headedly unreasonable. Wow. Who knew?
As US commentator/analyst Matthew Yglesias commented on the Garland pick: “Open with a low bid to make Republicans look unreasonable when they say no is Obama’s game and I guess he’s sticking with it.” Back in 2010 when Obama was shopping around for a Supreme Court replacement for an outstanding liberal Justice (ie, John Paul Stevens) and he ended up making the disappointing Kagan nomination, the Republicans were saying at the time that he should have picked someone else …namely, Merrick Garland. Here’s a telling example of the Republican enthusiasm for Garland:
Judge Garland “is a profoundly serious guy who really should be the kind of person you want to have on the Supreme Court,” said Joseph E. diGenova, a Republican and a United States attorney in the Reagan administration. “If Obama wants to get a fantastic judge on the court, he’s got one ready to go in Merrick Garland.”
(This year, diGenova has been calling for the prosecution of Hillary Clinton over her email problems.) And why has Garland has been so popular in the past with Republicans? Mainly because of his sympathetic stance towards police prosecutors, and his police-friendly positions on the admissibility of evidence:
For example, in cases in 2003 and 2007, the court divided on whether to suppress certain evidence on the grounds that police officers had obtained it as a result of an allegedly unconstitutional search. In both cases, another Democratic appointee sided with the defendant, while Judge Garland voted to allow prosecutors to use the evidence.
And even when he has agreed to suppress evidence, Judge Garland has not always gone as far as his colleagues. In a 2008 case, he agreed that prosecutors should not be allowed to use as evidence a gun found on a defendant when a police officer had unzipped the man’s jacket without his consent. But the judge did not sign onto other parts of the opinion that went beyond the facts of the case for a broader discussion of limits on searches… several criminal law professors said that Justice Stevens has been a liberal voice on the Supreme Court regarding the constitutional rights of criminal defendants, so replacing him with a center-right thinker would shift the court’s balance on law enforcement matters.
Right. So appointing Garland means the Republicans now have to blockade someone they would normally embrace. Big deal. Garland’s nomination would be brilliant politics by Obama if it actually achieved anything – but it doesn’t. Again to quote Matt Yglesias: “the reasonableness strategy is working for whatever its worth (ie nothing.)” Nothing in the short term, because ‘Republican obstructionism’ is already a Washington tautology. And even if Hillary Clinton is elected, the lame duck Congress at year’s end will proceed to certify Garland, and so another opportunity to have a genuine liberal viewpoint represented on the Supreme Court bench will have been squandered by Barack “No, We Can’t” Obama.
Footnote : As recently as last week, Republican dinosaur Senator Orrin Hatch was saying that Obama would appoint a liberal, when he should be appointing… Merrick Garland.
“[Obama] could easily name Merrick Garland, who is a fine man,” [Hatch] told us, referring to the more centrist chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia who was considered and passed over for the two previous high court vacancies. But, Hatch quickly added, “He probably won’t do that because this appointment is about the election. So I’m pretty sure he’ll name someone the [liberal Democratic base] wants.”
Great. So for disgruntled Bernie Sanders supporters, here’s the Obama/Clinton axis giving you yet one more reason to stay home, and not vote in November.
The victors were predictable in yesterday’s primaries, but the margins weren’t. Back in early February I’d suggested Ohio on March 15 would be the last stand for Bernie Sanders, but Clinton proceeded to rout him there yesterday – by an inexplicably wide margin, given how well Sanders had performed in neighbouring Michigan, which shares many of Ohio’s Rust Belt problems. Donald Trump’s 18 point victory margin in Florida over the hapless Marco Rubio was similarly stunning.
Here’s one telling detail as to why the Republican Establishment has only got itself to blame for getting Trump as their nominee: reportedly, Jeb Bush raised $100 million for his campaign, but he then spent $20 million of it attacking Rubio, an amount four times what he spent on negative ads about Trump.
Again, Matt Yglesias has a useful longer run explanation as to how the Republican Party nurtured Trump’s political ambitions, and then lost control of the monster they had done so much to create.
Acoustic guitar heroes
The ascendancy of Trump and Clinton is enough to make anyone reach for … something soothing for the mind. There are any number of really, really good acoustic guitarists around: Steve Gunn, Glenn Jones, and my favourite performer in this genre, William Tyler. The finger picking acoustic line is traceable back at least to the late 1960s/early 1970s Takoma Records geniuses, John Fahey and Robbie Basho.
Around the same time, Duane Allman supposedly got the inspiration for his “Little Martha” classic from a dream in which Jimi Hendrix led him into the bathroom, turned on the tap, and lo, this beautiful melody poured forth. When he woke up, Allman wrote it down, and named it after a 12 year old child called Martha Ellis, whose tombstone he’d seen recently in a local cemetery. Within a year, Allman himself was buried in the same cemetery. Spooky.
Oh, and while we’re still back in this era, here’s Tom Rush with his lovely, reflective “Rockport Sunday”