WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Wednesday, March 16, he would nominate appeals court judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, urging Republicans to approve a long-time jurist and former prosecutor known as “one of America’s sharpest legal minds.”
Garland, 63, is the chief judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, a court whose influence over federal policy and national security matters has made it a proving ground for potential Supreme Court justices.
He would replace conservative, Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last month, leaving behind a bitter election-year fight over the future of the court.
Obama announced the choice at a ceremony in the Rose Garden, with Democratic Senate leaders and allies looking on.
He held up Merrick as diligent public servant, highlighting his work leading the investigation into the Oklahoma City bombing. He quoted past praise for Garland from Chief Justice John Roberts and Sen. Orrin Hatch. And he said Garland’s talent for bringing together “odd couples” made him a consensus candidate best poised to become an immediate force on the nation’s highest court.
Garland is known for his “decency, modesty integrity, even-handedness and excellence,” he said.
Obama noted Garland was confirmed to the D.C. Circuit in 1997 with backing from a majority in both parties, including seven current Republicans senators.
Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Democratic leader called Garland’s section, “a bipartisan choice.”
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who spoke to Obama Wednesday morning, said in brief remarks on the Senate floor that Republicans must act on the president’s choice. “He’s doing his job this morning, they should do theirs,” said the Nevada Democrat.
But in the current climate, Garland remains a tough sell. Republicans control the Senate, which must confirm any nominee, and GOP leaders want to leave the choice to the next president, denying Obama a chance to alter the ideological balance of the court before he leaves office next January. Republicans contend that a confirmation fight in an election year would be too politicized.
On the other side, Obama allies have been drafted to run a Democratic effort that will involve liberal groups that hope an Obama nominee could pull the high court’s ideological balance to the left. The effort would target states where activists believe Republicans will feel political heat for opposing hearings once Obama announced his nominee.
For Obama, Garland represents a significant departure from his past two Supreme Court choices. In nominating Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, the president eagerly seized the chance to broaden the court’s diversity and rebalance the overwhelming male institution. Sotomayor was the first Hispanic confirmed to the court, Kagan only the fourth woman.
Garland — a white, male jurist with an Ivy League pedigree and career spent largely in the upper echelon of the Washington’s legal elite — breaks no barriers. At 63 years old, he would be the oldest Supreme Court nominee since Lewis Powell, who was 64 when he was confirmed in late 1971.
Presidents tend to appoint young judges with the hope they will shape the court’s direction for as long as possible.
A native of Chicago and graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, Garland clerked for two appointees of Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower — the liberal U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan Jr. and Judge Henry J. Friendly, for whom Chief Justice John Roberts also clerked.