Updated at 12:20 p.m. ET
President Obama announced his nomination Wednesday of Merrick Garland to succeed the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Garland is the chief judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The announcement comes a little more than a month after Scalia died unexpectedly while staying at a resort in Texas in February.
“Fidelity to the Constitution and the law has been the cornerstone of my professional life. It is the hallmark of the kind of judge I have tried to be for the past 18 years,” Garland said at the the White House Rose Garden ceremony to unveil his nomination. “If the Senate sees fit to confirm to the position have for which i have been nominated today, I promise to continue in that course.”
Introducing Garland, Obama praised Garland for his “decency” and “even-handedness.”
“These qualities and his long commitment to public service have earned him the respect and admiration of leaders from both sides of the aisle,” Obama said. Obama was flanked by Vice President Joe Biden. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid was present in the audience at the nomination announcements, as were the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary.
Regarded as a moderate, Garland is 63 and hails from the Chicago area. He graduated from Harvard Law School and clerked for Justice William Brennan. In 1997, President Bill Clinton nominated him to the appeals court. A number of Republicans voted to confirm him them, a fact Obama was quick to point out.
“Orrin Hatch supported his nomination. Back then he said, ‘In all honesty, I would like to see one person come to this floor and say why Merrick Garland does not deserve this nomination,” Obama said.
Obama also spent considerable time on his speech highlighting Garland’s experience serving in the Justice Department in the 1990s, where he led the prosecution into the Oklahoma City bombing.
“Perhaps most important is the way he did it. Throughout the process, Merrick took pains to do everything by the book,” Obama said.
In his statements at Wednesday announcement, a choked-up Garland said called the nomination “the greatest honor of my life,” aside from his marriage to his wife.
Obama’s naming of Garland as his nominee to the bench tees up the next stage of the battle between the President and Senate Republicans, who have vowed to block the nomination no matter who Obama chose. Senate Republicans have insisted that Scalia’s seat not be filled until the next president is inaugurated. The next big question is whether the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and his GOP conference will stand firm in its pledge to not hold hearings or even meet the nominee.
Obama said Garland would be traveling to the Hill Thursday to meet with Senators one-on-one, and that Republicans should give him a “fair hearing” followed by an up-or-down vote.
“If you don’t, it will not only be an abdication of the Senate’s constitutional duty, it will indicate a process for nominating judges that is beyond repair, it would mean everything is subject to most partisan politics,” Obama said. “The reputation of the Supreme Court will inevitably suffer. The faith in our justice system will inevitably suffer. Our democracy will ultimately suffer as well.”
It is rare the a Supreme Court nominee dies in the last year of a president’s term, and never in the modern era has that vacancy needed to be filled when an opposing party controls the Senate. The current situation has set up an unprecedented fight over considering Obama’s nominee and it comes as a polarized Supreme Court has a number of high stakes cases on its docket.
Democrats face the challenge of keeping the issue alive and at the very least, extracting political gains from Republicans’ obstructionism. They have set their sights in particular on Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over the confirmation of federal judges, including Supreme Court nominees. Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has railed against Grassley in multiple speeches on the Senate floor, and Dems are also rallying around the possibility of a Dem challenger to Grassley’s seat.
Outside groups are also invested in the fight over Obama’s Supreme Court nominee. Conservative organizations have said they’re willing to spend millions to pressure the Senate to block the nominee. The loss of the court’s conservative majority because of Scalia’s death was a significant blow to the conservative legal strategy geared to five votes favorable to Republican causes.
Progressive groups have countered with robocalls targeting Republican senators facing tough re-elections in the fall.
Obama’s selection of Garland will likely bring about a new phase in the rhetorical battle over whether the nominee should be considered.
Supporters of Obama’s right a replace Scalia will now have a specific nominee to put forward and use to increase the political pressure on Senate Republicans. Conservative forces will scour Garland record for any damning details from his past.
Just last week, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) — the GOP’s No. 2 in the Senate — said the then-unnamed nominee “will bear some resemblance to a piñata.”
“What I don’t understand is how someone who actually wants to be confirmed to the Supreme Court would actually allow themselves to be used by the administration in a political fight that’s going to last from now until the end of the year,” Cornyn said on Capitol Hill, according to CNN.