Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland will return to Niles West, his high school alma mater in Skokie, to deliver a commencement speech later this month. Garland’s choice to speak is an interesting one — Supreme Court nominees generally don’t speak publicly prior to their confirmations.
Although Garland has foregone the tradition, whatever he does say likely won’t be controversial, said Geoffrey Stone, a University of Chicago law professor.
“My guess is he’ll give a very conventional graduation speech that he would’ve given two years ago if he’d never been nominated to the Supreme Court,” Stone said. “He’ll say all the platitudes that convocation speakers would normally utter…he’ll give the same speech most people give at convocations.”
Garland has done a good job keeping his head down so far, Stone said, even though the circumstances surrounding his nomination have been more contentious than usual.
“He’s not gone around on the talk shows and told everybody what he thinks about constitutional interpretation, or what he thinks about members of the Supreme Court or the senate judiciary committee and most nominees would do no differently,” Stone said.
President Obama nominated Garland in March following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Since then Senate republicans have obstructed his confirmation, insisting they should be slated for after the general election in November. How the hearings will play out remains to be seen, but Stone said Garland is doing his job steering away from controversy and directing his remarks to the right group — the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.
“That’s who audience is,” Stone said. “He hasn’t gone out to be a vocal champion for his own position, that’s not his job. The administration does that.”
Jason Ness, Niles West Principal, said Garland is going to choose the topic of his speech.
Still, Stone said, if Garland has anything controversial planned, a high school commencement wouldn’t be the venue for it.
“My guess is he’ll give a commencement speech in which he tells people they should be good citizens and gives a conventional speech that won’t be directly tied to the position he is in,” Stone said. “If I’m wrong in my prediction, and he actually goes out there and goes after Senator Grassley and Senator McConnell and the [National Rifle Association] — that’d be big news, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
Max Green reports for the WBEZ news desk. Follow him @maxraphaelgreen