WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — President Barack Obama has nominated federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.
During an announcement Wednesday in the White House Rose Garden, the president said Garland is uniquely qualified to serve on the court immediately.
“I’ve selected a nominee 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,” Obama said with Garland and Vice President Joe Biden by his side.
Obama said Garland earned a scholarship to Harvard, put himself through law school and went on to become a partner at a law firm in just four years. He said Garland then made the highly unusual choice of giving that up and accepting a job as a federal prosecutor. At the time, Obama said, crime was rampant in Washington D.C., and Garland wanted to help.
MORE: Who Is Merrick Garland?
The president noted that Garland oversaw the federal government’s response to the deadly bombing in Oklahoma City in 1995. He said the case informed his view that the law is more than an intellectual exercise and that he believes in protecting the basic rights of every American.
Garland has served for 19 years on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and became its chief judge in 2013.
Obama said he went through a rigorous and comprehensive process to pick his nominee. He said he sought to set aside short-term expediency and “narrow politics.”
“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.
With his family watching, Garland was visibly emotional as he accepted the nomination.
He said being nominated is the greatest honor of his life, other than marrying his wife, and said there could be no higher public service in his view.
“I am grateful beyond words for the honor you have bestowed upon me,” he said.
There’s a vacancy on the nine-member court due to the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, who was discovered dead at a West Texas ranch on Feb. 13.
Since his death, replacing Scalia has become a hot-button issue during the presidential election.
CBS News Chief Legal Correspondent Jan Crawford said Garland would tip the balance of the court to majority liberal.
“He would be a solid liberal on that Supreme Court, but he’s also considered more of a centrist, more of a moderate,” she said. “He doesn’t have a hugely controversial record, some of those hot-button social issues that get nominees into trouble in the past.”
But Senate Republicans have insisted for weeks that they won’t hold hearings or a confirmation vote on Obama’s pick while some have even said they’d refuse to meet with Obama’s nominee.
In a speech on the Senate floor on Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made it clear that the GOP-led Senate will not consider Garland, but will wait until after the next president is in place.
McConnell said the view of the GOP is “give the people a voice in the filling of this vacancy.”
“The Senate will appropriately revisit the matter when it considers the qualifications of the nominee the next president nominates, whoever that might be,” McConnell said.
In a statement, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley said “a lifetime appointment that could dramatically impact individual freedoms and change the direction of the court for at least a generation is too important to get bogged down in politics.”
Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts said even though he voted for Garland when he was first confirmed in 1997, he’s opposed now. He said it’s not about the nominee, but about the process.
Roberts said Garland “may very well be a very good nominee.” Still, he said the American people should decide and not Obama.
In a statement, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said if Garland can’t get bipartisan support, “no one can.”
“He is a thoughtful jurist with impeccable credentials who has already garnered overwhelming bipartisan support for a job that requires nearly the exact same criteria as a Supreme Court justice,” Schumer said. “We hope the saner heads in the Republican Party will prevail on Chuck Grassley and Mitch McConnell to do their job and hold hearings so America can make its own judgement as to whether Merrick Garland belongs on the court.”
CBS2’s Alice Gainer reported that Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid urged Senate Republicans to do their job.
“I do hope they will do their constitutional duty and give President Obama’s nominee a meeting, a hearing, and a vote,” Reid said. “He’s doing his job this morning. The Republicans should do theirs from this point forward.”
Obama said allowing the Supreme Court confirmation process to become an extension of the presidential race would be wrong and urged Senate Republicans to grant hearings and a confirmation vote to Garland.
He said if they don’t, it would be an abdication for the Senate’s constitutional duty and would show the nominating process is “beyond repair” and said the Supreme Court is supposed to be above politics.
“I have fulfilled my constitutional duty,” the president said Wednesday. “Presidents don’t stop working in their final year; neither should a senator.”
In interviews Wednesday morning, GOP front-runner Donald Trump said the next president should pick the next Supreme Court justice, adding he would choose someone conservative, like Scalia.
Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton has said Obama has a constitutional duty to put forth a nominee for the Senate to consider.
Obama said Garland will travel to Capitol Hill on Thursday to meet one-on-one with senators.
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