The Supreme Court nomination process is full of rituals and traditions, including photo-ops and meetings with senators. And one member of the Judiciary Committee has started his own tradition.
Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., has met with five other Supreme Court nominees in his tenure in the Senate, and he’s given each one of them a biography of former federal judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr.
He did the same during his sixth meeting with a nominee Wednesday, and handed Judge Merrick Garland a copy of “Taming the Storm,” by Jack Bass.
Durbin said he chose to highlight Johnson due to his role in the civil rights movement.
“My gift to each of them so far, and to Judge Garland, [was] a copy of the biography of Frank Johnson of Alabama, who made some courageous rulings as a judge which probably, according to John Lewis, had as much to do with the success of the civil rights movement as any person,” Durbin said in a brief interview Tuesday.
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Appointed to the federal court in Alabama one year after the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision, Johnson played a key role in desegregating buses, schools and other public spaces.
On March 17, 1965, 10 days after “Bloody Sunday,” when civil rights leaders including Lewis were beaten and sprayed with tear gas as they attempted to march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., Johnson granted the demonstrators access to a public highway to conduct their march. Johnson argued the activists were protected by the First Amendment, and ordered that federal agents protect the marchers on their journey.
“When John Lewis took me on a walk across the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, Ala., he turned to me at one point and said there’s one man who doesn’t get enough credit for the civil rights movement and that’s Judge Frank Johnson,” Durbin told reporters after his meeting with Garland. “I believe it’s an extraordinary story of a man of legal talent and the courage of a federal judge who stood up at a moment in American history and made a difference, a real difference.”
Though Durbin continued his tradition of gifting a nominee with a book about a courageous judge, he said the night before that this meeting would be different, but not because of the unique circumstances surrounding Garland’s nomination. Senate Republicans have refused to hold a hearing or a vote on Garland, drawing the ire of Democrats who have accused Republicans of not upholding their constitutional duty.
“Well he’s from Illinois, and we have some friends in common,” Durbin said on Tuesday. “So it will be different in that respect.”
After his meeting Wednesday, Durbin said they also discussed Garland’s background, his family, and growing up near Chicago, as well as other judicial issues.