News

Former Bar President Gorelick on Garland: Calm and Deliberate

By Thai Phi Le

March 30, 2016

As the D.C. Bar continues its coverage of the nomination process for Judge Merrick Garland, we will be profiling Bar members who have known or have worked with Garland at some point during his decades-long career to provide insight on the U.S. Supreme Court nominee.

Jamie Gorelick, Photo by Patrice GilbertAfter President Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court, media immediately sought out his colleagues, friends, former opposing counsel, and even high school classmates. In article after article, Garland is described almost the same way: Meticulous. Flawless. Collegial. Thoughtful.

It's hard to find negative press about him, and only a few critics have spoken so far. On whether Garland should serve on the Supreme Court, Jamie Gorelick, past president of the D.C. Bar and a former colleague of Garland at the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of the Deputy Attorney General, is direct: "This should be an easy one."

But Garland's path to nomination won't be easy—far from it. Garland, a man often noted for his lack of political agenda, is now embroiled in one of the largest political battles in the nation. Will Republican senators meet with him? Will there be a confirmation hearing? Is he too liberal? Is he too moderate?

As members of both sides of the aisle publicly hash out their arguments and scrutinize his record, Garland is doing what he's built his career and reputation on, and that's quietly getting his job done. This week he's been on the Hill for Senate meetings, including one with Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, the first Republican to meet with him since Obama announced his nomination.

As he made his way to Kirk's office on Tuesday, Garland barely acknowledged the swarm of flashing cameras that followed. "Merrick has had very important positions and jobs, but he doesn't seek out publicity or credit. He'd rather listen than talk . . . and he looks for areas of agreement to see if he can build on them," says Gorelick, a partner at WilmerHale LLP.

Did You Know?

Garland is a chocoholic. 

Jamie Gorelick: “There’s a joke in his household that if you ask what portion of ice cream Merrick would like to eat, the answer would be however large the container is available to him.” 

Some days he would subsist solely on Hershey Kisses that staff would put out in a candy bowl at work.

These are consistent characteristics throughout his life, notes Gorelick, whose friendship with Garland dates back to their days at Harvard University in the 1970s—an era known for heated Vietnam War protests, the fight for women's rights, and a growing distrust of the government. "In a period of time [when] issues were raised in a pretty hot manner, he was always deliberate and thoughtful and good at listening," says Gorelick.

Together they sat on the Committee on Houses and Undergraduate Life to discuss hot-button issues affecting college life, including the integration of women into Harvard after its merger with Radcliffe. While Gorelick was a very vocal and passionate advocate for women's rights, Garland, who was also supportive, approached the issue differently, remaining even-keeled, probing the other side's arguments, and breaking down the logic.

Decades later in the 1990s, when Gorelick, then U.S. deputy attorney general, looked to fill positions in the office, she went against the norm of hiring more junior attorneys. "If one were going to be effective in such a sprawling department with such a broad horizontal span, one had to have deputies that were, in essence, your alter ego," she says. Garland was the "easiest choice." He had worked in private practice at Arnold & Porter LLP, served as a line prosecutor, served in academic roles, and at the time Gorelick hired him, was already in place at the Department of Justice as deputy assistant attorney general in the Criminal Division.

As Gorelick's principal deputy, Garland supervised the prosecution of three domestic terrorism cases long before terrorism was top of mind: the Unabomber case and the Oklahoma City and Atlanta Olympics bombings. Gorelick says the treatment of those cases by Garland and others in the prosecution team helped to demonstrate that "you can't treat an issue as local only when it has expressions outside the locality. You have to think broadly and strategically."

According to Gorelick, the cases foreshadowed the need for better coordination among government agencies on issues that crossed jurisdictional and agency boundaries, pointing out that the government later created the U.S. homeland security advisor and chief counterterrorism advisor position.

By 1997, Garland was tapped to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, becoming its chief judge in 2013. In numerous publications, his former colleagues have mentioned his desire to serve on the Supreme Court. Neal Katyal, former acting solicitor general, told The New York Times, "If you wanted to game a Supreme Court nomination, you would go one side or the other. He surely had people whispering in his ear for years to do that."

But if there were any whispers, they were unheard, until now. "I actually can't imagine him tacking one way or another for political purposes," says Gorelick.

For now Judge Garland quietly waits, at the center, biding his time and doing his job. 


James Sandman, former Bar president and current president of the Legal Services Corporation, spoke to the Bar about his experiences working alongside Judge Garland at Arnold & Porter LLP.