One Of The NRA's Top Attorneys Has A Very Different View Of Merrick Garland Than The NRA

Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

As the National Rifle Association (NRA) smears Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland as a threat to the Second Amendment by misrepresenting his judicial record, one of the NRA's top constitutional litigators is heaping praise upon Garland and his judicial temperament.

The NRA began its false attacks on Garland moments after he was nominated, repeating smears from the Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) -- a discredited right-wing group spending millions of dollars opposing Garland -- that dishonestly distorted Garland's involvement as a judge on the D.C. Circuit in two gun-related cases.

Running with JCN's smears, the NRA has baselessly claimed that Garland joining the Supreme Court "would mean the end of the fundamental, individual right of law-abiding Americans to own firearms for self-defense in their homes" and that the "fight over the confirmation of Judge Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court represents what could be a life-or-death decision for the right to keep and bear arms in this country."

Although widely viewed as a moderate whose disposition as a judge was routinely praised by conservative jurists, the NRA has unconvincingly claimed that Garland's nomination "could be the most divisive -- and to the Second Amendment, most dangerous -- appointment to the Court in history."

The NRA's dishonest and fiery rhetoric on Garland is at odds with the views of one of the organization's top constitutional litigators, conservative lawyer Charles J. Cooper.

Cooper, "a longtime stalwart of the Federalist Society" who often represents the NRA and other conservative interests in his private appellate litigation practice, praised Garland in a March 28 interview, saying his respect for Garland has only grown since he supported Garland's nomination to the D.C. Circuit in 1997.

In a 1997 letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Cooper noted that his legal philosophy differed from Garland's, but also wrote, "Not only is Merrick enormously gifted intellectually, but he is thoughtful as well, for he respects other points of view and fairly and honestly assesses the merits of all sides of an issue," and that should he be confirmed, "He would comport himself on the bench with dignity and fairness."

Asked about the letter by The Washington Post, Cooper said his "high opinion of Judge Garland has not changed -- indeed, it has only strengthened -- over the course of the 19 years since I wrote these words." (Cooper, however, does support Senate Republicans in obstructing Garland's nomination for political reasons.)

Cooper is one of the top conservative Second Amendment litigators in the country. In fact, the same day the Post published its interview with Cooper, he filed a brief on behalf of the NRA in a case involving a legal challenge to a Florida law that prevents doctors from asking patients certain questions about gun ownership. 

He was involved in the landmark Second Amendment decision District of Columbia v. Heller, the opinion that the NRA baselessly claims Garland would overturn. Cooper is listed as the counsel of record for an amicus curiae brief filed on behalf of former employees of the Department of Justice in support of the conservative legal argument that the Second Amendment is an individual right. After Heller was decided, with a conservative majority finding the existence of an individual right, the NRA called Cooper's brief "especially worthy of note" when describing the "debt of gratitude" the NRA owed to other participants in the case.

Cooper continues to represent the NRA and NRA state affiliates in some of the group's most high-stakes litigation -- cases that have advanced to U.S. courts of appeal -- including the NRA's constitutional challenges to post-Newtown gun laws in Maryland and New York, cases involving challenges to age restrictions on gun ownership and carrying guns in public , and NRA challenges to states' use of discretion in issuing permits to carry concealed guns.

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