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Attorney Jamie Gorelick: Merrick Garland Is 'At Heart, A Public Servant'

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Let's learn more now about Merrick Garland by talking to someone who has called him a friend and colleague for more than four decades. In the 1990s, Garland was a prosecutor at the Department of Justice where Jamie Gorelick was the deputy attorney general. They'd known each other long before that - since college, in fact. I began our conversation by asking Gorelick why the Justice Department tapped Garland to manage the investigation into the Oklahoma City bombing.

JAMIE GORELICK: We asked him to do that job, and he volunteered to do it because we wanted a perfect investigation, a flawless prosecution. We wanted no one to have any question about the way in which justice was handled in that case. And he did that, bringing a perfect prosecution from the rubble of Oklahoma City and from the chaos of an investigation that had a thousand agents, six U.S. Attorneys' Offices and state and local first responders and others.

I think that experience for him brought home what he already knew, which was that he was, at heart, a public servant and that the pursuit of the rule of law could have profound meaning for the country.

SHAPIRO: What I get from your description just then is that as a prosecutor, he might have been more meticulous than flashy. Is that right?

GORELICK: Merrick Garland is meticulous to the nth degree. He is extraordinarily careful, extraordinarily thoughtful and never self-aggrandizing, ever. So he is the opposite of a flashy prosecutor. He is the person you want in charge of a case that you want handled perfectly.

SHAPIRO: Are there issues where you think he might be in the majority of a 5-4 decision with the more conservative members of the court?

GORELICK: It's certainly conceivable. He doesn't make his decisions based upon party or politics. He looks at the facts and the law.

SHAPIRO: I feel like supporters of any Supreme Court nominee say that about whoever the nominee is.

GORELICK: Well, an advantage of having a nominee to the Supreme Court who has, you know, nearly two decades of opinions out there is that you can see the kinds of opinions he writes and the people who join him in his opinions.

SHAPIRO: And so if you were to compare him to a current or recent justice, to whom would you compare him?

GORELICK: That's a really hard one. I don't know that I would venture down that road. All I would say to you is to remind you of Chief Justice Roberts quote in which he said, "if you find yourself on the opposite side of an argument from Judge Merrick Garland, you really better think about your position."

SHAPIRO: You've known him for decades and not only in a professional capacity. You've known each other since college. What's he like off the court? What makes him tick?

GORELICK: He's a very modest person. You could see in his emotion today that he's a very real person.

SHAPIRO: He got a little choked up there in the White House Rose Garden.

GORELICK: He did. That's the person I saw when we were watching the wreckage in Oklahoma City on the television. That's why he said, please send me in; I have to be part of fixing this.

SHAPIRO: Apart from how seriously he takes things that are important to him, how modest he is in his approach to his stellar legal career, do you have a sense of what he does for fun?

GORELICK: Yes. They hike. They've been to maybe not all the national parks but many of them. That's how they spend their family vacations. I know that he read all the "Harry Potter" books with his children.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

GORELICK: He can tell you what a horcrux looks like. What else - he drives a very old car. He's red-green colorblind, so he has a list of which ties go with which suits.

SHAPIRO: Really?

GORELICK: Pretty much if you meet him, if you've worked with him, that is the person that you get. So on a personal level and on a professional level, he is the same.

SHAPIRO: That's attorney Jamie Gorelick on President Obama's newest nominee for the Supreme Court, Gorelick's friend and colleague Judge Merrick Garland. Thanks so much for joining us.

GORELICK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.