Obama nominates Merrick Garland to Supreme Court

President Obama on Wednesday said he would nominate Merrick B. Garland as the nation’s 113th Supreme
President Barack Obama walks to the Rose Garden with his nominee for the Supreme Court vacancy, Merrick Garland, currently chief judge for U.S. Court of Appeals D.C. Circuit, at the White House in Washington, March 16, 2016.
President Barack Obama walks to the Rose Garden with his nominee for the Supreme Court vacancy, Merrick Garland, currently chief judge for U.S. Court of Appeals D.C. Circuit, at the White House in Washington, March 16, 2016.

President Obama on Wednesday said he would nominate Merrick B. Garland as the nation’s 113th Supreme Court justice, choosing a centrist appeals court judge for the lifetime appointment and daring Republican senators to refuse consideration of a jurist who is highly regarded throughout Washington.

Mr. Obama introduced Judge Garland to an audience of his family members, activists, and White House staff in the Rose Garden Wednesday morning, describing him as exceptionally qualified to serve on the Supreme Court in the seat vacated by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February.

The president said Judge Garland is “widely recognized not only as one of America’s sharpest legal minds, but someone who brings to his work a spirit of decency, modesty, integrity, even-handedness and excellence. These qualities and his long commitment to public service have earned him the respect and admiration from leaders from both sides of the aisle.”

He added that Judge Garland “will ultimately bring that same character to bear on the Supreme Court, an institution on which he is uniquely prepared to serve immediately.”

Mr. Obama said it is tempting to make the confirmation process “an extension of our divided politics.” But he warned that “to go down that path would be wrong.”

“I simply ask Republicans in the Senate to give him a fair hearing, and then an up or down vote,” Mr. Obama said. “If you don’t, then it will not only be an abdication of the Senate’s constitutional duty, it will indicate a process for nominating and confirming judges that is beyond repair.”

In brief remarks, Judge Garland emotionally described his legal career as a prosecutor and a judge, saying that “fidelity to the Constitution and the law have been the cornerstone of my professional life.” He said that if the Senate confirms him, he promises to “continue on that course.”

In choosing Judge Garland, a well-known moderate who has drawn bipartisan support over decades, Mr. Obama was essentially daring Republicans to press their election-year confirmation fight over a judge many of them have publicly praised and who would be difficult for them to reject, particularly if a Democrat were to win the November presidential election and they faced the prospect of a more liberal nominee in 2017.

Judge Garland persevered through a lengthy political battle in the mid-1990s that delayed his own confirmation to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit by more than a year. Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, argued at the time that the vacancy should not be filled.

Twenty years later, Mr. Grassley and other Republicans are again standing in the way of Judge Garland’s appointment, arguing that the next president should be the one to pick the successor to Justice Scalia. Republicans in the Senate and on the presidential campaign trail vowed to stand firm against whomever Mr. Obama chose.

In remarks Monday, Mr. Obama chastised Republicans for taking that stand, demanding that the Republican-controlled Senate fulfill its responsibility to consider Judge Garland and hold a timely vote on his nomination. Do do anything else would be irresponsible, he said.

Judge Garland is often described as brilliant and, at 63, is somewhat older for a Supreme Court nominee. He is two years older than Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who has been with the court for more than 10 years. The two served together on the appeals court and are said to be friends.

Supreme Court nominees tend to be in their early 50s. In choosing Judge Garland, Mr. Obama very likely gave away the possibility of a justice who would serve on the Supreme Court perhaps three decades. Instead, he imposed a sort of actuarial term limit on the nomination and thus his legacy, offering Senate Republicans a compromise not only on ideology, but also on tenure.

The Oklahoma City bombing case in 1995 helped shape Judge Garland’s professional life. He coordinated the Justice Department’s response, starting the case against the bombers and eventually supervising their prosecution.

Judge Garland insisted on being sent to the scene even as bodies were being pulled out of the wreckage, said Jamie S. Gorelick, then the deputy attorney general.

“At the time, he said to me the equivalent of ‘Send me in, coach,’” Ms. Gorelick said. “He worked around the clock, and he was flawless.”

White House officials on Wednesday noted that Judge Garland was confirmed to his current post in 1997 with the support of seven sitting Republicans: Senators Dan Coats of Indiana, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Susan Collins of Maine, Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, John McCain of Arizona, Pat Roberts of Kansas.

In an email on Wednesday just before Mr. Obama was to appear in the Rose Garden to formally nominate him, one official said that Mr. Hatch said this year that Mr. Obama “could easily name Merrick Garland, who is a fine man.” They noted that Mr. Hatch was quoted in 2010 as saying that Judge Garland would be a “consensus nominee” if he had been picked that year.

The White House also cited positive comments about Judge Garland from Chief Justice Roberts, the Republican governors of Oklahoma and Iowa, and former Republican officials in the Justice Department.

Because of his position, disposition and bipartisan popularity, Judge Garland has been on Mr. Obama’s shortlist of potential nominees for years. In 2010, when Mr. Obama interviewed him for the slot that he instead gave to Justice Elena Kagan, Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, said publicly that he had urged Mr. Obama to nominate Judge Garland as “a consensus nominee” who would win Senate confirmation.

“I know Merrick Garland very well,” Mr. Hatch said at the time. “He would be very well supported by all sides.”

In an email to supporters early Wednesday morning, Mr. Obama said he considered three principles in making his choice: whether the person possessed “an independent mind, unimpeachable credentials and an unquestionable mastery of law”; whether the nominee recognized “the limits of the judiciary’s role”; and whether his choice understood that “justice is not about abstract legal theory, nor some footnote in a dusty casebook.”

Mr. Obama said that he was “confident you’ll share my conviction that this American is not only eminently qualified to be a Supreme Court justice, but deserves a fair hearing and an up-or-down vote.”

The White House has created a new Twitter handle, he said — @SCOTUSnom — and he urged people to follow it for “all the facts and up-to-date information.”

At a news conference on Thursday, Mr. Obama said that Republicans must “decide whether they want to follow the Constitution and abide by the rules of fair play that ultimately undergird our democracy and that ensure that the Supreme Court does not just become one more extension of our polarized politics.”

Republican senators have urged the president to hold off on a nomination, saying the next president should make the pick after voters express their preference in the presidential election. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, has repeatedly said he would oppose any nomination until next year.

“President Obama is getting dangerously close to narrowing down the field of potential candidates for nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court,” Mr. McConnell warned his supporters in a fund-raising appeal last month.

The outcome of the Washington clash could determine whether Mr. Obama gets to set the direction of American jurisprudence for decades. After the death last month of Mr. Scalia, a leading conservative, the court is evenly divided, with four liberal justices and four conservatives. A new justice appointed by Mr. Obama could be the deciding vote in several close cases.

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