SCOTUS Pick: Merrick Garland
President Obama announced his choice of a Supreme Court nominee this morning: Chief Judge Merrick Garland.
Merrick Garland is the one name that's come up repeatedly from Senators of both parties during President Obama's discussions about Supreme Court vacancies—including the two he previously filled—the President said this morning.
Obama made good on those recommendations, announcing the Chief Judge of the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, Merrick Garland, as his SCOTUS pick to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, during a ceremony in the Rose Garden.
The announcement followed several weeks of a rigorous process that involved reaching out to every member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and speaking with constitutional scholars, advocacy groups and bar associations to get opinions from across the spectrum, Obama said. The process was overseen by Senior Adviser to the President Brian Deese and White House Counsel Neil Eggleston.
The President praised Garland for being one of America's sharpest legal minds and maintaining a commitment to public service. He also spoke about Garland's modesty, integrity, even-handedness and track record of building consensus.
A moment of levity came when Obama said Garland put himself through law school partly by selling his comic book collection, and Garland put his hand over his heart. "It's tough," Obama replied. "I've been there."
Garland said this nomination is the "greatest honor of my life," aside from his wife of nearly 30 years, Lynn, agreeing to marry him. Fidelity to the Constitution and the law has been the cornerstone of his professional life, he said in his speech, and he promised to continue on that course if the Senate sees fit to confirm him.
The 63-year-old was appointed to the DC Circuit in '97 by Bill Clinton and confirmed by a Republican-controlled Senate in a 76-23 vote (with 32 Republicans joining in the majority). He has been Chief Judge for the past three years, since February '13.
President Obama pointed out Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch supported Garland's nomination to the DC Circuit—called the "Second Highest Court in the Land"—and has since said Garland would be a consensus nominee for the Supreme Court.
A Harvard College and Harvard Law grad, Garland clerked for US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit Judge Henry Friendly and Supreme Court Justice William Brennan.
Garland's also worked in private practice, spending time at Arnold & Porter. He made partner in just four years (shortly after which he left to become a prosecutor during Bush 41's administration) and worked as partner from '85-89 and '92-'93.
He served as an AUSA in DC, as a Deputy Assistant AG in the DOJ's Criminal Division, and as Principal Associate Deputy AG (during which time he oversaw the federal response to the the Oklahoma City bombing and led the prosecution against Timothy McVeigh).
On Friday, Chief Judge Garland will travel to the Hill to start one-on-one meetings with Senators. After that, the Senate will take a break and leave town on recess for two weeks.
President Obama pointed out Garland has been pondering Constitutional issues for a long time. During Garland's commencement speech as valedictorian of his public high school, he gave a passionate impromptu defense of First Amendment rights, in response to parents having unplugged the sound system during the anti-Vietnam War tirade of the previous student speaker.
Garland has been a frequent participant in the the annual Shakespeare Theatre Mock Trial, above, alongside SCOTUS Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Samuel Alito.
President Obama's announcement comes after much speculation about possible nominees, who included DC Circuit Judges Sri Srinivasan (above) and Patricia Millett, Ninth Circuit Judge Paul Watford, Eighth Circuit Judge Jane Kelly, and US District Court for DC Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.
Although Senate Republicans have vowed not to give a hearing to any Supreme Court nominee during this presidential administration, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), the senior Republican in the Senate, said this month that Obama "could easily name Merrick Garland, who is a fine man."
Since '75, the average time for a Supreme Court nominee to be confirmed has been 67 days. (The longest was Justice Clarence Thomas' 99 days.)
Six justices have been confirmed in a presidential election year since 1900. Half of them were Republicans. Most recently, Justice Kennedy was appointed by President Reagan and confirmed by a Democratic-controlled Congress in 1988.
It would be unprecedented for the Senate to refuse to give a qualified Supreme Court nominee a fair hearing and an up or down vote, said President Obama this morning.
"I've fulfilled my Constitutional duty," he added. "Now it's time for the Senate to do theirs. Presidents do not stop working in the final year of their term. Neither should a Senator."
"I hope they're fair. That's all."