Jews make up just over 2 percent of the American population. They could soon take up almost half the Supreme Court bench.
If Merrick Garland — announced Wednesday as President Barack Obama’s choice to fill the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat — is confirmed, a record four of the nine Supreme Court justices would be Jewish. Garland would join Jews Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan on the court.
Jewish reaction to the news was rapid, and varied.
The Reform movement immediately issued a statement that didn’t take a side on whether Garland should be confirmed by the Senate or comment on his Jewishness, but urged Republican lawmakers to fairly consider his credentials. Garland, 63, is currently the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate majority leader, has said Republican senators will not consider any Obama nominee to the Supreme Court. He called Garland later in the day and told him the Senate would not take action on his nomination.
“Now that a nominee has been named, we call on Senate Majority Leader McConnell and Judiciary Chairman Grassley to step back from the misguided position they have articulated in recent weeks and instead allow senators to fulfill their constitutionally-mandated role of providing advice and consent,” Rabbi Jonah Pesner said in the statement by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. “The American people deserve a fully functioning judiciary, starting with a full Supreme Court bench.”
Later in the day, National Council of Jewish Women sent out a similar statement asking the Senate “fulfill their obligation to hold hearings on Judge Merrick Garland’s nomination in a timely manner.”
Meanwhile, on Twitter, Jews appreciated the historically high ratio Garland’s confirmation would create.
@mawilner Just rename it the SBEDUS: supreme Beth Din Of the US. Although a Beth Din only needs three jewish judges
— Asherley (@schmucklevision) March 16, 2016
Garland would be 4th Jew on Supreme Court, would join 5 Catholics. Only in America — Chemi Shalev (@ChemiShalev) March 16, 2016
Others felt three out of nine is enough.
Merrick Garland will make it 4 Jewish justices out of 9. More diversity might be nice.
— MJ Rosenberg (@MJayRosenberg) March 16, 2016
And there were the inevitable Bernie Sanders comparisons.
Merrick Garland is my new favorite older Jewish man. Sorry Bernie
— Peter Grosz (@petergrosz) March 16, 2016
Between Merrick Garland & Bernie Sanders, banner year for Jews with very non-Jewish names who are only in the news to make a political point
— Yair Rosenberg (@Yair_Rosenberg) March 16, 2016
But the overwhelming initial focus was on Garland’s name, which isn’t obviously Jewish.
Still don’t understand how a dude named Merrick Garland is Jewish https://t.co/SOg90K80RN
— Max J. Rosenthal (@maxjrosenthal) March 16, 2016
@SethAMandel what the — Merrick Garland is Jewish? What the hell kind of clubbable name is that for a Jew?
— John Podhoretz (@jpodhoretz) March 16, 2016
Despite Jewish Twitter’s onomastic skepticism, Garland is a confirmed member of the tribe.
In a short, emotional speech after Obama announced his nomination in the White House Rose Garden, Garland referenced his Jewish background, saying his grandparents fled to the U.S. from anti-Semitism in Russia.
Garland’s father, Cyril Garland, was born in Omaha but hailed from a Latvian Jewish immigrant family. He ran an advertising business out of the family home and died in 2000. Garland’s mother, Shirley Garland, who is still living, at one point served as director of volunteer services at the Council for Jewish Elderly in Chicago.
“My family deserves much of the credit for the path that led me here. My grandparents left the Pale of Settlement at the border of western Russia and Eastern Europe in the early 1900s, fleeing anti-Semitism and hoping to make a better life for their children in America,” he said, choking up.
Garland’s wife Lynn Rosenman, whose father was a special counsel to Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, is Jewish too.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Merrick Garland’s father was Protestant; he was Jewish.