Obama Taps Chief Justice Merrick Garland for Supreme Court Seat

Chief Justice Merrick Garland of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Image-Department of Justice.
Chief Justice Merrick Garland of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Image-Department of Justice.

Despite opposition from Republicans in Congress who have vowed to block any nomination made by President Obama for the vacant seat on the Supreme Court following the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia, who died unexpectedly wearing a hunting trip in Texas last month, Obama did just that, and nominated Merrick Garland, the Chief Justice of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit.

Pres. Obama announced his choice in the White House Rose Garden on Wednesday, saying that he reached out to members of both parties as well as legal associations and advocacy groups in “a rigorous and comprehensive process,” before making his choice.

“Of the many powers and responsibilities that the Constitution invests in the presidency, few are more consequential than appointing a Supreme Court justice,” Obama said in the White House Rose Garden. “The men and women who sit on the Supreme Court are the final arbiters of American law.”

In his announcement, Pres. Obama stated that Garland “is widely recognized not only as one of America’s sharpest legal minds, but someone who brings to his work the spirit of decency, modesty, integrity, even-handedness and excellence.”

With Garland at his side, president Obama continued saying, “I said I would take this process seriously and I did, I chose a serious man and an exemplary judge. To find someone with such a long career in public service, marked by complex and sensitive issues, find someone who just about everyone not only respect but genuinely like, that is rare.”

Speaking to an audience of Justice Garland’s family members, activists, and the White House staff who had gathered at the Rose Garden on Wednesday morning, Obama said, “I simply ask Republicans in the Senate to give him a fair hearing, and then an up-or-down vote. If you don’t, then it will not only be an abdication of the Senate’s constitutional duty, it will indicate a process for nominating and confirming judges that is beyond repair.”

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Immediately following the nomination of Garland, Senate Majority Leader Mich McConnell shot down any chance that the Chief Justice would get a hearing in the Senate. Speaking on the Senate floor, McConnell said, “The next justice could fundamentally alter the direction of the Supreme Court and have a profound impact on our country, so of course the American people should have a say in the court’s direction.”[xyz-ihs snippet=”adsense-body-ad”]

Republican Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin followed McConnell’s lead and said, “This has never been about who the nominee is. It is about a basic principle. Under our Constitution, the president has every right to make this nomination, and the Senate has every right not to confirm a nominee.

“I fully support Leader McConnell and Chairman [Chuck] Grassley’s [R-Iowa] decision not to move forward with the confirmation process. We should let the American people decide the direction of the court.”

Garland, who has served on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit since 1997 after his Senate vote of 76-23, and became Chief Judge in February of 2013, was seen as the Republican choice in 2010 to fill the position left vacant by the retirement of Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.

But, Obama passed over Garland, and ultimately chose Elena Kagan to fill the Supreme Court position. Republican Senator of Utah, Senator Orrin Hatch had urged Pres. Obama to nominate Garland as “a consensus nominee,” who he said would win the Senate confirmation at that time.

In an interview on Friday, Sen. Hatch, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that Garland was “a fine man,” but thought that Obama would not nominate him because he was too moderate, saying “He 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.”

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Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkoski released a statement following President Obama’s announcement, saying, 

Today the President exercised his constitutional authority to nominate an individual to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court left by the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia. However, given the timing of this vacancy, in the middle of a Presidential election and in an increasingly toxic political environment, I had urged the President to refrain from naming a nominee. I believe he should have left that task to the next administration. 

On the campaign trail, Democrat presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders said, 

Judge Garland is a strong nominee with decades of experience on the bench, my Republican colleagues have called Judge Garland a ‘consensus nominee’ and said that there is ‘no question’ he could be confirmed. Refusing to hold hearings on the president’s nominee would be unprecedented.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is considered the most important appeals court in the nation, and has been widely seen as a springboard to a Supreme Court seat. Justice Scalia, who Chief Justice Garland was tapped by Obama to replace, was also a justice in that court.[xyz-ihs snippet=”Adversal-468×60″]