Legal chiefs at 44 companies call on Senate to take up Garland

Last Updated Jun 16, 2016 5:24 PM EDT

The U.S. Senate is being urged to consider Judge Merrick Garland's nomination to the Supreme Court by the top attorneys at more than three dozen corporations, including Viacom (VIA), Alcoa (AA) and Nike (NKE), who called Garland's qualifications "outstanding and beyond dispute."

Thursday's letter, addressed to Senators Chuck Grassley and Patrick Leahy, the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, praised Garland's intellect, legal experience and judicial temperament, saying the characteristics "render him exceptionally well qualified to serve on the Supreme Court."

In addition, "the business community has a great interest in avoiding the legal uncertainty that could result if the vacancy remains unfilled for an extended period of time," the letter stated.

The nation's highest court has been running with eight justices following the death of Antonin Scalia in February. President Barack Obama nominated Garland, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, to replace Scalia, but Senate Republicans including Grassley have declined to take up the nomination, saying the next president should pick Scalia's replacement.

Amy Steigerwalt, an associate professor of political science at Georgia State University, says waiting until a new president is sworn in to fill the vacancy likely means the Supreme Court won't be deciding cases with nine justices until 2018. "My reaction to that letter, in many ways, that is what they are really speaking to," Steigerwalt said.

Because the Supreme Court runs on a schedule akin to an academic year, if someone joins the court in mid-March, the justice would have missed oral arguments in cases before the court, and therefore couldn't help decide them. "They would be technically on the court, but not really until the following October," meaning the new justice would most likely not help decide Supreme Court cases until 2018, the professor said.

"There isn't a lot of discussion about when a person would be seated on the court, because the answer is well past right after a new president is seated," Steigerwalt said. "I think that's intentional, the American public knows very little about the court system."

The Supreme Court frequently weighs in on cases involving "important business issues such as intellectual property rights, labor and employment law, administrative law, securities laws, and many other areas of great importance to those engaged in commercial activity," the attorneys wrote. "We are concerned about the uncertainties and delays to the impartial administration of justice that could arise if the court is left without a tie-breaking ninth vote."

That uncertainty is valid, especially for large companies that operate in multiple states because they could be dealing with differing rules as the result of lower-court rulings that contradict one another.

"Companies that have a national presence are directly effected when circuit court precedents are in conflict," Steigerwalt said. "The rule in Massachusetts could be different than the rule in California, and it creates a lot of uncertainty for businesses that are aided more by simply knowing what the rule is than to be operating under multiple rules."

She added that "The issue with there being only eight justices is you face the possibility of a 4-4 split."

Since Scalia's death, the Supreme Court has deadlocked 4-4 in two cases.

Republicans are "failing our justice system and the American people by refusing to consider Chief Judge Merrick Garland's nomination to the Supreme Court," Vermont Democrat Leahy said in a statement. "Senate Republicans are holding [Garland's] nomination hostage for the Republican Party's presumptive presidential nominee; the same candidate who accused a sitting federal judge of bias simply because of his race."

Spokespeople for Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, did not immediately return requests for comment.

In addition to lawyers at Viacom, Alcoa and Nike, the letter was also signed by the general counsels at:

  • Liberty Media
  • Cummins
  • Serengeti Asset Management
  • SanDisk
  • MacAndrews & Forbes
  • Houlihan & Okey
  • Authentic Brands
  • Cablevision Systems
  • American Capital
  • EM
  • Evercore
  • David Yurman
  • AMC Networks
  • Vereit
  • Spotify
  • CIT Group
  • Ameriprise
  • Squarespace
  • Intellectual Ventures
  • Upwork
  • D.E. Shaw & Co.
  • Walker & Dunlop
  • Hormel Foods
  • Estée Lauder
  • Perry Capital
  • Avaya
  • Qualcomm
  • Live Nation Entertainment
  • International Paper
  • Electronic Arts
  • McKesson
  • Univision Communications
  • Instacart
  • York Capital Management
  • Sony Music Entertainment
  • Reddit
  • Square
  • Cargill
  • Pinterest
  • BlackBerry