Opinion by Laura Coates
Judge Merrick Garland will finally get his just deserts.A man who waited in the hallways of Congress for the dignity of a hearing, only to receive the indignity of a dream deferred.A man who watched not one, but three Supreme Court nominees receive the political courtesies he was blatantly and boldly denied before they were ultimately confirmed. Indeed, the most recent Supreme Court nominee, now-Justice Amy Coney Barrett, was the beneficiary of the very hypocrisy spewed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell when he expedited, let alone entertained, a Supreme Court nomination during an election year — a suggestion he found politically despicable when President Barack Obama was in office.
A man who now stands poised to be the next Attorney General of the United States, and with the two Democratic US Senate wins in Georgia, will likely sail through his confirmation process. But I hope Garland doesn’t forget the way he was treated, the resentment he would have been justified in feeling having been denied a seat on the highest court in the land. Not because he was entitled to the seat, but because the nomination entitled him to at the very least a hearing.
I hope he never forgets the way the rules were enforced unfairly to justify preferential treatment of a Republican nominee, showing unconscionable favor without regard to what is just, what is fair and what is equal. I hope he swallows the pill of that memory every single day before he strides down the hallway of the Department of Justice, not because any Attorney General must seek vengeance, but because he has a moral, legal and ethical responsibility to understand and prevent injustice when he seeks justice on behalf of the people of the United States. All of them.
In no way is the temporary, albeit public slight experienced by Garland comparable to the systemic multi-generational injustices wielded against people of color in this country since European settlers staked claim on what was already possessed. One would be hard pressed to conjure up a single instance that would equal the way in which systemic racism and unconscionable discrimination has shaped our justice system — not just to the detriment of the people but to the detriment of even the most patriotic and well-meaning public servants.
But his experience is illustrative of the blatant disrespect and disregard for justice that has too often resulted from a cost benefit analysis that subjugates justice to politics and replaces a court of law with a court of public opinion. Double standards undermine democracy and justice alike, as does the selective application, enforcement or prosecution of the law. Look no further than the way in which largely peaceful protesters condemning the killing of unarmed people of color by police were treated compared to conspiratorial insurrectionists at the United States Capitol to illustrate that point.
Garland’s nomination should not be governed by karma. He’s a judge well respected for judgment and temperament. His leadership should be infused by the recognition that the people’s faith in our democratic and judicial system is fatally undermined when people are denied the very things that are essential to a presumption of innocence: due process and the benefit of the doubt.
Garland should have been given an opportunity to be heard. Instead he was prematurely and unfairly judged, his appeals for an objective review of his record, the facts or even any deeds ignored because he was not palatable to the people who refused to be impartial and yet were in a position to decide his fate.
That’s the definition of injustice. And he must remember what it felt like to him and what it feels like to people who find their names at the other end of the sentence, “United States versus… .”
Some would argue that his brief tango with injustice or even his proven professional merit are wholly irrelevant to his appointment because he is a White male appointed by a President-elect who promised that his Cabinet would reflect the diversity of America — and would have the back of Black America. After all, President-elect Joe Biden will have the benefit of a politically aligned US Senate to presumably rubber stamp his qualified nominees. When the world is your oyster, why play it safe?
I won’t engage in an exercise that judges a person by the color of their skin — rather than the content of his character — especially when arguing for justice and equality in the next breath. Perhaps history will judge this as a missed opportunity. Or perhaps it opens the door to a woman of color to replace Garland on a court that has been the pipeline to the United States Supreme Court and the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, and lead to the confirmation of the first Black woman as a Supreme Court Justice.
Perhaps the figurehead of the Department of Justice will be supported by equally qualified attorneys who will lead the various divisions and restore the morale of career prosecutors that were diminished under the controversial tenure of Attorneys General Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr. Perhaps Lady Justice will finally stop peeking underneath her blindfold. If we’ve learned anything from the past four years, it’s that we can’t predict the next four.
Ultimately, the Attorney General of the United States will have his work cut out for him. He will have to move boulders that seem more eternal than the one Sisyphus was condemn