President Barack Obama announced on Wednesday that he has chosen Merrick Garland, chief judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, as his Supreme Court nominee to fill the vacant seat left by the death of Antonin Scalia.
Obama introduced Garland as his nominee in an announcement from the White House Rose Garden Wednesday morning.
“I’ve selected a nominee who is recognized not only as one of America’s sharpest legal minds, but someone who brings to his work a spirit of decency, honesty, integrity, even-handedness and excellence,” Obama said. “I said I would take this process seriously and I did. I chose a serious man and exemplary judge.”
Garland, 63, was a clerk for the late Supreme Court Justice William Brennan and served in the Justice Department in several leadership roles, first as the deputy assistant attorney general for the criminal division and later as principal associate deputy attorney general.
The Illinois-born Garland graduated from Harvard University in 1974 and enrolled at Harvard Law.
“He put himself through Harvard Law School by working as a tutor, by stocking shoes in a shoe store, and — what is a painful moment for any young man — selling his comic book collection,” Obama said. “It’s tough. Been there.”
Garland worked for several years in a lucrative private practice but chose to return to public service as an assistant U.S. attorney in Washington.
Chief Judge Garland of the U.S. Court of Appeals speaks between Vice President Joe Biden and President Obama in the Rose Garden on Wednesday. (Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
Obama also highlighted Garland’s work overseeing the federal response to the Oklahoma City bombings.
Garland reportedly edged out two other top candidates considered by the president: Sri Srinivasan, a judge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia; and Paul Watford, a judge in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
“This is the greatest honor of my life,” an emotional Garland said, outside of his wife’s “agreeing to marry me 28 years ago.”
“It’s also the greatest gift I’ve ever received except for — another caveat — the birth of our two daughters,” he said. “I know my mother is watching this on television and crying her eyes out.”
“Fidelity to the Constitution and the law have been the cornerstone of my professional life,” Garland said, telling Obama, “I am grateful beyond words for the honor you have bestowed upon me.”
Following Scalia’s death, Republicans in the Senate had urged President Obama to allow the next president to nominate a replacement and threatened to not consider his pick. But Obama said it is the Senate’s job to do so.
“To suggest that someone as qualified and respected as Merrick Garland doesn’t even deserve a hearing, let alone an up or down vote, to join an institution as important as our Supreme Court when two-thirds of Americans believe otherwise, that would be unprecedented.”
“I simply ask Republicans in the Senate to give him a fair hearing and then an up or down vote,” Obama continued. “I have fulfilled my constitutional duty. Now it’s time for the Senate to do theirs.”
GOP leaders quickly dug in their heels.
“It is about a principle, not a person,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor, reiterating his vow not to meet with Obama’s nominee in an election year.
“It is the president’s constitutional right to nominate a justice,” McConnell said. “It is the Senate’s constitutional right to act as a check on the president.”
At least one Republican senator, though, is on the record in support of Garland.
“[Obama] could easily name Merrick Garland, who is a fine man,” Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch told the conservative website Newsmax earlier this week. “[But] probably won’t do that because this appointment is about the election. So I’m pretty sure he’ll name someone the [liberal Democratic base] wants.”
In 2010, as the Senate was confirming a successor to Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, Hatch called Garland “a consensus nominee.”
Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who last week asked that her name be withdrawn from consideration for the Supreme Court, commended Obama’s choice.
“Judge Garland has earned a reputation for fairness and the respect of colleagues across the ideological spectrum,” Lynch said. “His impeccable credentials, steadfast fidelity to the law and firm devotion to the public interest make him an outstanding choice to sit on our nation’s highest court, where I am certain he will serve with integrity and wisdom. I strongly support the president’s choice and I urge Congress to approve Judge Garland’s nomination and fill this important position without delay.”
While Senate Republicans have vowed not to commence confirmation hearings before the November election, there might be room for the Senate to confirm a nominee in the lame-duck period between Election Day and the Jan. 20, 2017, inauguration.
In a statement released ahead of his announcement, the president said he had “consulted with legal experts and people across the political spectrum, both inside and outside government” and “reached out to every member of the Senate, who each have a responsibility to do their job and take this nomination just as seriously.”
With reporting contributed by Yahoo News Chief White House Correspondent Olivier Knox