WASHINGTON – Merrick Garland, the judge nominated by President Barack Obama to the U.S. Supreme Court, made his return to the courtroom on Wednesday to hear cases as a federal appeals court judge, not a Supreme Court justice.
Garland, the chief judge of the District of Columbia Circuit, stopped hearing cases in March after he was nominated to fill the seat of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February. But after Republicans blocked his confirmation, it was announced in mid-December that he’d again begin hearing federal appeals court cases.
President-elect Donald Trump is now expected to announce his own nomination to the court within the two weeks of his inauguration on Friday.
There was no mention during nearly three hours of argument on Wednesday that it was Garland’s first day back on the bench in 11 months.
The three judges hearing the cases entered the courtroom following the call of “oyez, oyez, oyez,” the same call to order used at the Supreme Court. But there was no confusing the small courtroom, in the same building as the federal district court and along the parade route Trump will pass Friday, with the Supreme Court.
The judges enter from a doorway, not through red velvet curtains. Nameplates remind lawyers the names of the judges they are addressing.
The two judges sitting with Garland on Wednesday have also been mentioned as possible future nominees to the Supreme Court, though by different parties.
Judge Sri Srinivasan, appointed by President Obama in 2013, has been mentioned as a possible nominee by a Democratic president. Judge Brett Kavanaugh, named by President George W. Bush in 2006, has been mentioned as a possible Republican nominee, though he is not one of 21 potential nominees listed by Trump.
One subtle reminder of Garland’s unsuccessful nomination was literally staring him in the face Wednesday. Among the roughly three dozen people watching the proceedings was one lawyer with a familiar name: Eugene Scalia, a lawyer and one of Justice Scalia’s nine children.
Scalia, who represents one of the parties in a case being heard by the court, declined to comment on his case or Garland’s return to the bench.
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