The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The nomination of Merrick Garland is a futile charade

President Obama, right, and Vice President Biden, left, applaud Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland at the White House on Wednesday. (Nicholas Kamm/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

According to, the word “futile” is defined as “having no useful result; ineffectual.” So “futile” is the word that best sums up the substance of President Obama’s Supreme Court pick, yet it doesn’t adequately describe the political utility of his move to nominate Judge Merrick Garland. That would be a “charade,” defined by Google as “an absurd pretense intended to create a pleasant or respectable appearance.” There is no chance Garland will be confirmed, but there is some political value in Obama proceeding with the nomination even though he knows he cannot win. The nomination fight will give President Obama something to do and, like global climate, it’s an issue that suits him. He can demagogue, act like a victim of Republican obstructionism and deploy lofty rhetoric while not really achieving any practical gain. Predictably, the president will demonize his critics and opponents while much of the media will chime in, but most of the world will remain focused on the 2016 presidential election.

Hillary Clinton can join in the charade, or not, as she sees fit; there is no cost to her. And maybe it will supply President Obama with a sufficient distraction so he doesn’t talk about things that may be disruptive to her campaign.

The whole Supreme Court episode is a lucky break for the Democrats. I suspect Garland was picked expressly to make the Democrats look reasonable, since they know he will not be confirmed. If the Democrats were actually picking one of their own as the nominee, they wouldn’t choose a 63-year-old white male. They want to try and make this as politically hard for the Republicans as possible.

Garland has had a distinguished career, but he won’t be adding “Supreme Court justice” to his résumé anytime soon. We will never know how he would act on the Supreme Court, but Garland is a useful political prop for the president and the Democrats, and in that role, he will be effective.