A Standout Student At Harvard, Garland Preserved Deep Ties To His Alma Mater

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Garland, center, shakes hands with President Barack Obama, right, as Vice President Joe Biden watches during his introduction as Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court in the Rose Garden of the White House. (Evan Vucci/AP)
Garland, center, shakes hands with President Barack Obama, right, as Vice President Joe Biden watches during his introduction as Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court in the Rose Garden of the White House. (Evan Vucci/AP)

President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland, is expected to meet with several U.S. senators on Capitol Hill Thursday, where Republicans have promised to block any confirmation hearing.

Garland, who is currently chief justice of the Circuit Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia, has maintained a strong bond with Harvard — where he attended both undergrad and law school.

If confirmed, Merrick Garland would be the 20th Harvard Law School graduate on the nation’s highest court. That number is twice as many as Yale, which has had 10 graduates on the court.

‘A Star’ At Harvard

Professor Richard Lazarus was in his office at Harvard Law School watching on his computer as the president of the United States nominated his friend, Garland, for a seat on the Supreme Court. Lazarus and Garland both attended Harvard Law in the ’70s.

“So we’ve got a lot of mutual friends, graduated from law school at about the same time,” he said. “And over the years, many of my students have gone on to clerk for Judge Garland on the D.C. Circuit.”

Garland's Ties To Harvard

  • Graduated: Harvard College in 1974
  • An editor at the Harvard Law Review
  • Met his wife, Lynn, here while she was getting a master’s degree at MIT
  • Graduated: Harvard Law School in 1977
  • A former president of Harvard’s Board of Overseers

Lazarus watched as his friend choked back tears and accepted the nomination. In all the years he’s known Garland, Lazarus says he never saw him this emotional.

“Thank you, Mr. President,” Garland said in his acceptance speech. “This is the greatest honor of my life, other than Lynn agreeing to marry me 28 years ago.”

Garland graduated Harvard College with honors, and Harvard Law with high honors. Even among the nation’s elite students he was exceptional.

“He was also a leader when he was here as a student,” said Lazarus. “He was on the Law Review. After law school, he went and clerked for Henry Friendly, the most prestigious clerkship you could get on the Court of Appeals. Merrick was a star here at Harvard Law School.”

As an undergrad, Garland wrote theater reviews for The Harvard Crimson. He was an editor on the Harvard Law Review and would later become president of Harvard’s Board of Overseers.

“He is someone who cuts to the heart of the matter, but listens very hard to all points of view.”

– Martha Minow, dean of Harvard Law School

Judge Michael Chertoff graduated from Harvard Law in ’78 — a year after Garland did.

“We were law students together, almost 40 years ago,” said Chertoff. He said since those days, Garland has been both a social friend and a colleague to him.

Chertoff sat on the U.S. Court of Appeals, was secretary of Homeland Security and used to hang out with Garland at the Law Review.

“There’s a certain amount of downtime to play things like wastepaper basketball and just sit around and BS about all types of topics, so it was not all work and no play,” Chertoff said about their time at Harvard Law School. “There was definitely a reasonable amount of play as well.”

Martha Minow, dean of Harvard Law, said Garland “makes even hard conversations better.”

“He is someone who cuts to the heart of the matter, but listens very hard to all points of view,” she continued. “And in addition, he has a great sense of humor.”

Friends and colleagues hold Merrick Garland in high esteem, but Minow said there is one area where he doesn’t measure up.

“He’s short,” she joked, laughing. “Watching the nomination with him standing next to the president, it was striking how short he is.”

But the Garland family stands tall at Harvard. Judge Garland’s sister graduated from Harvard with two degrees. His wife has one. They married at the Harvard Club in New York City, but their daughters haven’t followed in the families footsteps.

“I was surprised that Judge Garland’s daughters went to Yale given his tremendous Harvard pedigree, but no doubt there’s rebellion in all youth,” said Lazarus.

Nobody is perfect.

Americans will see whether the U.S. Senate finds any fault with Garland — or even looks for them.

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