ICYMI: Obama’s Q&A at the Law School

Obama speaking about his Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, at the University of Chicago Law School on Thursday, April 7th, 2016. (Source: Houston Chronicle/Jacquelyn Martin, AP)

On Thursday, April 7th, President Obama came to the University of Chicago Law School to push for the confirmation of his Supreme Court pick, Merrick Garland, and also stopped by to answer questions from the assembled law school students and faculty. Some highlights:

On his views of the Supreme Court confirmation process: “What’s not acceptable is not giving him a vote, not giving him a hearing [..] the increasing use of the filibuster for someone who is clearly within the mainstream. Or to essentially say we are going to nullify the ability of the President from the other party [to make a Supreme Court pick]. If in fact [Sen.] Mitch McConnell (R-KY) sticks to not giving him a vote, and their nominee, whoever that might be wins and takes over the White House […] now the Democrats say, ‘What’s good for the goose is good for the gander’ [and decide] to wait another four years.”

On the constitutional questions that decided his Supreme Court pick: “There are a set of new issues that are going to be increasingly salient; one great example is the debate around encryption […] In a society in which so much of your life is digitized, people have a whole new set of privacy expectations. They also expect that […] the digital world is safe, which creates a contradictory demand on government.”

On voting rights: “First propertied men, then white men, then white folks didn’t want women, minorities and others to participate in the political process. And that’s the history. We should be at a point where we say ‘That’s not who we are,’ […] and we should be at the point where we want everybody to vote, but we have state and federal laws that unabashedly discourage people from voting. […] The biggest change we could make in our political process would be to make sure everyone is voting. You start getting 70, 80 percent voting rates, that’s transformative.”

On the diversity (?) of the Merrick Garland pick: “He’s from Skokie! The way I think about diversity is that I’ve got a broad seat of nominees to make […] how do I make sure I’m intentional about that process to make sure each potential candidate gets a fair look. When I look at Merrick Garland […] yeah, he’s a white guy, but he’s an outstanding jurist. I’m sorry!”

On diversity in the federal courts (answered during M. Garland question):“I have transformed the federal courts, from a diversity standpoint with a record that’s been unmatched. We have more African-Americans on the circuit courts and more African-American women [on?] the courts than any president before, more Latinos than any president before, more Native Americans.”

On drones: “How do you think about [drones] in a way that is consistent with morality, but is also consistent with my priority to keep Americans safe? We need to start creating a process whereby public accountability is introduced so that you, fellow citizens, or Congress can see whether or not we’re adhering to these norms [of oversight and not killing civilians]. There is no doubt some innocent people have been killed by drone strikes. What I can say with great certainty is that the rate of civilian casualties with drones is much lower than the rate of civilian casualties during conventional war.”

On the Bin Laden raid and the Iraq War: “There are a number of people who were killed who you might not consider civilians. Bin Laden’s family, for example. If you calculate [civilian casualties] as a percentage, it was pretty high, [even though] it was a highly specialized mission. The number of Iraqis who were killed by [Al-Qaeda in Iraq] and by the U.S military […] were in the tens of thousands. Part of my job as president is to figure out how I can keep Americans safe doing the least damage possible, in really tough, bad situations. I don’t have the luxury of just not doing anything and feeling like my conscience is completely clear, because there are folks who are genuinely trying to kill us. I wish I could send in Iron Man, such that the tragedy of war, conflict and terrorism did not end up creating circumstances we where [hurt people we shouldn’t].

On the University of Chicago: “Change happens when citizens are informed, engaged, asking tough questions, and [at the University of Chicago] you are learning the type of critical thinking [that will make you good citizens.]”

On phones: “You can’t carry your phones into court, can you?”

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