Obama To Nominate Judge Merrick Garland To Fill Supreme Court Vacancy President Obama said Wednesday he would nominate Judge Merrick Garland to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left when Justice Antonin Scalia died. We learn more about Garland and his judicial record.


Obama To Nominate Judge Merrick Garland To Fill Supreme Court Vacancy

Obama To Nominate Judge Merrick Garland To Fill Supreme Court Vacancy

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President Obama said Wednesday he would nominate Judge Merrick Garland to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left when Justice Antonin Scalia died. We learn more about Garland and his judicial record.


Today, President Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court. Garland, who is 63, is the widely respected chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. It's often called the second-most important court in the country. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg reports on the day's events.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: It was one of those picture-perfect sparkling days in the White House Rose Garden with flowering pink trees surrounding the podium as the President introduced the nation to his Supreme Court nominee.


BARACK OBAMA: Over my seven years as president, in all my conversations with senators from both parties in which I asked their views on qualified Supreme Court nominees - this includes the previous two seats that I had to fill - the one name that has come up repeatedly from Republicans and Democrats alike is Merrick Garland.

TOTENBERG: Obama summarized Garland's biography. He was born and raised in Chicago. His father ran a small business out of the family home, and his mother was president of the PTA. Valedictorian of his high school class, Garland earned a scholarship to Harvard College where he graduated summa cum laude and put himself through Harvard Law School working as a tutor and working in a shoe store. Again, he was at the top of his class.

After clerking for two distinguished judges, he joined a prestigious law firm where he made partner within four years. But as President Obama observed, Garland very quickly decided to make a career move.


OBAMA: He walked away from a comfortable and lucrative law practice to return to public service.

TOTENBERG: He took a job as a line prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's Office, took a 50 percent pay cut, traded in his elegant partners office for a windowless cubicle and made a name for himself going after violent criminals and corrupt politicians.

By the 1990s, he had a top job in the Justice Department overseeing some of the most difficult investigations, among them the Oklahoma City bombing investigation, the subsequent trial of Timothy McVeigh and the Unabomber investigation.

In 1995, President Clinton nominated Garland to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Colombia. But with an election a year away, Republicans dragged their feet. It took nearly two years, but backed by Republican Orrin Hatch, Garland was finally confirmed. He has served on that court for 19 years, becoming chief judge three years ago. In his remarks today, Judge Garland fought back tears from beginning to end.


MERRICK GARLAND: This is the greatest honor of my life other than Lynn agreeing to marry me 28 years ago. It's also the greatest gift I've ever received except the birth of our daughters Jessie and Becky.

TOTENBERG: Speaking of his years as prosecutor, Garland recalled an early case when a violent gang took over a public housing project and terrorized the residents.


GARLAND: The hardest job we faced was persuading mothers and grandmothers that if they testified, we would be able to keep them safe and convict the gang members. We succeeded only by convincing witnesses and victims that they could trust that the rule of law would prevail.

TOTENBERG: President Obama, in concluding the ceremony, alluded to the pledge by Senate Republicans not to consider any Supreme Court nomination because this is an election year. He called that assertion of power a betrayal of our traditions. This, he said, is precisely the time when we should play it straight. Within minutes, Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell went to the Senate floor to reiterate his pledge not to act on the nomination.


MITCH MCCONNELL: It is the president's constitutional right to nominate a Supreme Court justice, and it is the Senate's constitutional right to act as a check and withhold its consent.

TOTENBERG: Republican and Democratic sources tell NPR, however, that Republicans, through back channels to the White House, let it be known that if the Democrats prevail in the November presidential election, the GOP would help get Garland confirmed in the two months before the new president takes office on the theory that Garland is less liberal than anyone they think a President Clinton or Sanders would appoint.

The White House, however, will push hard for earlier action, believing that in this case, it's pushing for confirmation now is also good politics. Garland is beloved on his court by conservatives and liberals alike for his collegiality and his insistence that all views are heard and respected. He is enormously respected as well in the rest of the legal community and even by some Republican senators.

Expect to hear these words over and over again, for instance, from Republican Senator Orrin Hatch in 1997 when Hatch was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Garland was up for confirmation to the Appeals Court.


ORRIN HATCH: I know him personally. I know of his integrity. I know of his legal ability. I know of his honesty. I know his acumen. He belongs on the court. And I believe that he is not only a fine nominee but as good as Republicans can expect from this administration.

TOTENBERG: Garland will begin making the rounds on Capitol Hill tomorrow. If Republicans refuse to meet with him, expect TV pictures of closed doors. Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.

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