Justice

That Awkward Moment When The GOP’s Top Judicial Attack Dog Sang Merrick Garland’s Praises

CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland, right, shakes hands with with President Barack Obama as Vice President Joe Biden looks on as he is introduced as Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court during an announcement in the Rose Garden of the White House, on Wednesday, March 16, 2016, in Washington.

Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland once earned considerable praise from a very unlikely source.

Carrie Severino is the GOP’s blind attack dog on judicial nominations. The last time President Obama nominated someone to serve on the Supreme Court, the conservative activist complained that “America deserves better than Elena Kagan.” When President Obama nominated three individuals to fill vacancies on a federal appeals court, Severino denounced the president’s decision to carry out one of his constitutional functions as a “court-packing blitz.” Earlier this week, after news reports identified federal appellate Judge Jane Kelly as a possible Supreme Court nominee, Severino’s organization ran ads attacking Kelly for representing “an admitted child molester” during Kelly’s service as a public defender. Attacking Democratic judicial nominees is what Severino does, and she now has a considerable army at her disposal.

Severino’s organization, the Judicial Crisis Network, reportedly hired “a team of about 10 researchers, including a number of lawyers” to gather opposition research on President Obama’s potential nominees. And Severino is both well-connected and well-positioned to feed this research to Senate Republicans. A former law clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas, Severino represented Republican senators in two separate Supreme Court cases attacking the Affordable Care Act. In the first of these two cases, Severino’s clients included Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and current Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA).

And, just in case there is any doubt, Severino has already deployed some of the opposition research her team dug up on Garland, claiming in the National Review that Garland would make it easier for lawmakers to prevent gun violence (that counts as an attack in conservative circles).

Not so long ago, however, Severino sang a very different tune. Garland, who Obama nominated to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on Wednesday, was also a contender for the Supreme Court vacancy in 2010 that was eventually filled by Justice Elena Kagan. "Of those the president could nominate, we could do a lot worse than Merrick Garland," Severino said at the time. She added that Garland was "the best scenario we could hope for to bring the tension and the politics in the city down a notch for the summer."

Six years later, Garland is still the same man. The only thing that's changed is that Senate Republicans hope to keep Scalia's seat vacant until they approve of the president making nominations. Indeed, McConnell has not simply claimed that “this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President," he's also refused to commit to allowing a vote on the next president's nominee as well.

In the coming weeks, McConnell and his colleagues are likely to deploy barrages of opposition research gathered by Severino's team. Her organization's also planned a $2 million ad campaign opposing the president's nominee -- even before anyone outside of the White House knew who that nominee was.

Anyone who sees one of those ads attacking Garland may want to bear something in mind, however. The woman behind them once described her target as the "best scenario we could hope for."