Challenging GOP Threats, Obama Nominates Merrick Garland for Supreme Court

Currently the Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Merrick Garland is widely regarded as a "moderate" choice to replace the seat on the nation's highest court let empty after Justice Antonin Scalia died unexpectedly last month. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/NLJ)

Challenging GOP Threats, Obama Nominates Merrick Garland for Supreme Court

Garland fits the profile of a nominee who from the White House's perspective is "judicially unassailable"

Updated 12:30 pm EST:

As President Obama introduced Merrick Garland on Wednesday as his choice for the U.S. Supreme Court, Republican lawmakers "doubled down" on their vow to block the election-year nominee.

Garland, who currently serves as chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, is widely considered a "moderate" choice, and thus a politically safe replacement for the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. Despite this, Republican lawmakers have for weeks threatened that they will hold neither a hearing nor vote on an Obama pick.

Following the White House press conference, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gave a statement on the Senate floor declaring that Republican lawmakers would continue to uphold this vow.

Obama appeared to anticipate such a response during his remarks Wednesday when he directly appealed to Senate Republicans to give Garland "a fair hearing and then an up-or-down vote."

"At a time when our politics are so polarized," the president said, now is "precisely the time we should play it straight and treat the nomination with the care it deserves. The Supreme Court is unique, it is supposed to be above politics and should stay that way."

Refusing to move this process forward, he continued, "won't only be an abdication of the Senate's constitutional will mean everything is subject to the most partisan of politics."

He concluded: "The reputation of the Supreme Court will inevitably suffer. Faith in our justice system will inevitably suffer. And our democracy will ultimately suffer as well."

With numerous important Supreme Court cases still hanging in the balance, many groups have added their voice to the dispute, calling on Senate Republicans to "do your job."

"President Obama has fulfilled his constitutional duty by nominating Judge Merrick Garland, but instead of fulfilling their constitutional duty, Senate Republicans are hell bent on running out the clock for the next nine plus months in hopes of allowing President Donald Trump to make a pick in line with his racist and bigoted view of our country," declared Ilya Sheyman, executive director of Political Action.

"Senators who refuse to consider the President's nominee are failing the American people. They are obstacles to progress and are not only snubbing the judge and the President, they're shirking their sworn duty to 'support and defend the Constitution' and 'faithfully discharge the duties' of their offices," said Miles Rapoport, president of the public interest group Common Cause.

"If employees don't do their jobs, they get fired," Rapoport continued. "Common Cause says unequivocally, Senate, Do Your Job!...Anything less will be an affront to the court, the Constitution, and the voters."

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, accused Senate Republicans of "intentionally leaving a vacuum in one of the most hallowed and significant institutions in our country and denying the American people a complete and full vetting of a new Supreme Court justice."

The Sierra Club has vowed to mobilize its 2.4 million members to urge their lawmakers to hold a hearing "as soon as possible." Last week the group sent a letter (pdf) signed by a coalition of environmental groups to McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) specifically addressing the important environmental and climate cases that remain in flux with this empty position.

"For the protection of our air, water, wildlife and lands, a strong and intact judiciary system is as important as ever," the letter stated. "With so many critical issues expected to come before the Supreme Court, including those dealing with public health and environmental safeguards, this is not the time to hobble our judiciary with extended vacancies caused by political gamesmanship."


Ahead of an official announcement scheduled for later Wednesday morning, news outlets are confirming that President Obama's nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court is Merrick Garland.

Currently the chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Garland is widely regarded as a "moderate" choice to replace the seat on the nation's highest court left empty after Justice Antonin Scalia's death last month.

According to MSNBC legal analyst Ari Melber, Garland fits the profile of a nominee who from the White House's perspective is "judicially unassailable"--an important descriptor given that the Republican Party, which currently controls the U.S. Senate, has said it will not even consider or hold hearings for any candidate Obama puts forth.

Ahead of specifically naming Garland, Obama said in a statement about the pending announcement that he was confident his choice for the court would be "not only eminently qualified to be a Supreme Court Justice" but is someone who "deserves a fair hearing, and an up-or-down vote" by the Senate.

"As president, it is both my constitutional duty to nominate a justice and one of the most important decisions that I--or any president--will make," Obama continued. "I'm doing my job. I hope that our senators will do their jobs, and move quickly to consider my nominee. That is what the Constitution dictates, and that's what the American people expect and deserve from their leaders."

As NPR's reporting notes, "Garland's nomination opens a new chapter in what could become an epic and bruising fight over both the ideological tilt of the nation's highest court and President Obama's legacy."

Offering background on Garland, NPRreports that Garland has

cultivated a reputation for openness and collegiality at the D.C. Circuit, a bench that's sometimes called the second most important in the land.

Before becoming a judge, Garland occupied top posts in the Justice Department, where he oversaw some of the biggest investigations of the Clinton era, including the Oklahoma City bombing, the Unabomber case, and the Atlanta Olympics bombing.

Garland has been a finalist for two other Supreme Court openings during Obama's presidency; he joined the appeals court in 1995, after a long Senate delay and a 76-23 vote.

Garland has won praise from senior Republican figures, including Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch and Chief Justice John Roberts.

Answering the question "Who Is Merrick Garland?" at ThinkProgress, Ian Millhiser writes that despite his "moderate" reputation, "Garland's record does not suggest that he would join the Court's right flank if confirmed to the Supreme Court. He would likely vote much more often than not with the Supreme Court's liberals, while occasionally casting a heterodox vote."

Obama's nomination of Garland, Millhiser adds, "appears to be an attempt to box in Senate Republicans who've refused to confirm anyone Obama nominates. There are strong reasons to doubt whether this strategy will work, however. Sen. Hatch, who undoubtedly regrets his decision to praise Garland shortly before this nomination, has outright refused to meet with anyone Obama nominates to replace Scalia. And he's far from alone within the GOP caucus."

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