Merrick Garland, President Obama's pick to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of Antonin Scalia, is "a very careful jurist," not an ideologue in the least, MSNBC's chief legal reporter Ari Melber insisted in a brief segment during the 4 p.m. Eastern hour on Wednesday.
At no point did Melber raise concerns by pro-lifers about Garland's views on abortion and he breezed past a case on gun rights that has Second Amendment defenders concerned.
"Ari, what can you tell us that would fascinate us about how this guy's ruled?" guest host Chris Matthews asked Melber. "Well, not much is the honest answer, Chris," Melber began. "After 19 years on the federal bench....This is a very careful jurist," he added before going through a list of "highlights" to prove that Garland was merely a moderate with some liberal leanings.
Yes, he often defers to administrative agency rulings which liberal might like but, by the same token, Melber insisted, he "often sides against criminal defendants who appeal their convictions."What's more, Garland often has "ruled for First Amendment protections, but within the precedent."
"On a lot of other cases he has just hewed to precedent and been what many call a judicial minimalist," Melber concluded.
Garland does not do "frankly what Justice Scalia and others sometimes have done, which is say, hey, we got to do this new and different" but rather sticks to "what do we think the law says, let's keep it as minimalist as possible."
In other words, according to Melber's telling, Garland is not a boat-rocker firmly on either side of the ideological divide.
While by and large that may be true of his appellate court jurisprudence, it's a bit of a red herring. The wise play for circuit court judges hoping some day for a presidential promotion to the Supreme Court is to play it safe and hew closely to precedent.
Once on the Court, however, it can be a different story since it's the Supreme Court's prerogative to set new precedent and to revisit old ones as the cases making their way to the bench so allow.