This post has been updated with additional history about the Heller gun control case.
President Obama is billing Merrick Garland as a moderate Supreme Court nominee who ought to be a consensus candidate. But the counter-narrative is already being told in conservative media: The 63-year-old federal judge is actually a liberal on gun control who will erode the right to keep and bear arms.
Here's how Carrie Severino, policy director of the Judicial Crisis Network, put in the National Review:
Garland has a long record, and, among other things, it leads to the conclusion that he would vote to reverse one of Justice Scalia’s most important opinions, D.C. vs. Heller, which affirmed that the Second Amendment confers an individual right to keep and bear arms.
Back in 2007, Judge Garland voted to undo a D.C. Circuit court decision striking down one of the most restrictive gun laws in the nation. The liberal District of Columbia government had passed a ban on individual handgun possession, which even prohibited guns kept in one’s own house for self-defense. A three-judge panel struck down the ban, but Judge Garland wanted to reconsider that ruling. He voted with Judge David Tatel, one of the most liberal judges on that court.
The idea that Garland is coming for your guns is already gaining traction.
Merrick Garland has ‘very liberal view of gun rights’ https://t.co/BugisSneU3
— The Washington Times (@WashTimes) March 16, 2016
Here's What We Know About Obama's Supreme Court Nominee Merrick Garland: https://t.co/yeVZXPRHCT
— Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) March 16, 2016
— GunOwnersofAmerica (@GunOwners) March 16, 2016
'Very liberal view of gun rights'... https://t.co/Qcjzswj93K
— DRUDGE REPORT (@DRUDGE_REPORT) March 16, 2016
The argument against Garland's centrist credentials rests on one issue — and largely on one case, the Heller decision — but it's one that is sure to ignite passionate opposition among those who are constantly on the lookout for attempts by Obama to whittle away gun rights.
When examining Garland's position in the Heller case, it's worth remembering this bit of context, as reported by The Washington Post in 2007:
The District has the nation's most restrictive law, essentially banning private handgun ownership and requiring that rifles and shotguns kept in private homes be unloaded and disassembled or outfitted with a trigger lock. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit declared it unconstitutional last year, becoming the first appeals court to overturn a gun-control law because of the Second Amendment (emphasis added).
In other words, Gardland's request to review the ruling seemed to reflect a respect for longstanding precedent; it was hardly the work of a judicial activist. In fact, it was the decision to overturn the law that was notable for its departure from the norm.
Nevertheless, expect to see Garland portrayed in the conservative press as a kind of stealth maneuver by the president — a liberal who is presented as a moderate but will actually undermine a cherished constitutional right.