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Obama Nominates Judge Merrick Garland To Supreme Court

Judge Merrick B. Garland is flanked by President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden as he is introduced as Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court, March 16, 2016.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP
Judge Merrick B. Garland is flanked by President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden as he is introduced as Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court, March 16, 2016.

 Judge Merrick B. Garland, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, is pictured before the start of a ceremony at the federal courthouse in Washington, May 1, 2008.
Associated Press
Judge Merrick B. Garland, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, is pictured before the start of a ceremony at the federal courthouse in Washington, May 1, 2008.

About Merrick Garland

Age: 63.

Current Position: Chief judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Professional: Before becoming a judge in 1997, Garland served in the Justice Department as principal associate deputy attorney general and deputy assistant attorney general in the criminal division. He was a federal prosecutor in the District of Columbia from 1989 to 1992 and a partner in the law firm of Arnold & Porter from 1985 to 1989 and from 1992 to 1993.

Education: Harvard College and Harvard Law School.

Of note: Garland supervised Justice Department investigations into the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.

Obama Nominates Judge Merrick Garland To Supreme Court
Obama Nominates Judge Merrick Garland To Supreme Court GUEST: Glenn Smith, constitutional law professor, California Western School of Law

Today's top story -- Republicans say now they will not vote on or meet with the man President. Obama nominated to the US Supreme Court this morning. The nominee -- 63-year-old Merrick Garland is the chief job on the US to Circuit Court of appeals the district Columbia. Here is what he said after the announcement at the White House this morning. As my parents taught me both words and deeds, the life of public service is as much of a give to the person who served as it is to those who he is serving. For me there can be no higher public service and serving as a member of the United States Supreme Court. Journey is Lynn Smith -- constitutional law professor at the California Western school of Law. Welcome to the program. James Ingram also joins us. Professor of political science at San Diego State University. So Glenn last time we spoke it was about the president's possible picks to fill the vacancy left by the death of Antonin Scalia. Does the Garland selection make sense to you? Yes -- people including have been speculating about ways the president might go. One way was to appoint someone who clearly would not be confirmable but to make a political point. Either by picking someone with a particular lyrical ideology or someone from a particular ethnic background. The other possibility -- is to pick someone who is so eminently qualified and so otherwise confirmable that it really makes the point in terms -- turns up the heat on the Senate. It does make sense to me. Some commentators have noticed that the fact that Garland is white and that he is perhaps older than some recent Supreme Court nominees -- does that play into it at all? I think that his being white and being a man does make some more of a seeming substitute for Scalia. It is relevant to that extent. I understand the speculation at 63 he will only have 20+ years rather than -- 10 more. I think that obviously there is a limit to how much those kind of differences might appeal to the Republican majority. I think they are looking at this -- both short-term politically and a much longer term in the sense of whoever takes over for justice Scalia is going to be in a position to make some major rulings in the next few years. During the announcement President. Obama spoke of Judge Garland's work in the Oklahoma City bombing prosecution. He let the investigation supervised the prosecution that brought Timothy McVeigh to justice. Perhaps most important is the way he did it. Throughout the process he took pains to do everything by the book. When people offered to turn over evidence voluntarily he refuse -- taking the route of obtaining the proper subpoenas instead. Merrick would take no chances that someone who murdered innocent Americans might go free on a technicality. In the past some senior Republican figures including John Roberts and Senator. Orrin Hatch of Utah have praised Judge Garland. What are people saying about his qualifications -- about his regard for the rule of law? I think that's what people are saying is what is true. He is an exceptional candidate in terms of the rule of law. A prosecutor who turns no corners. Very admirable figure -- 18 years on the DC circuit with no blemishes and a lot of appreciation on all sides. I think it is clear that if this becomes about Judge Garland, and his qualifications, he is eminently qualified. Obviously immediately after the majority leader McConnell tries to say is not about a person but a principal -- they want to keep it at a neutral and personal level. It gets into the personal qualifications and the personal fairness and all of that period I think they are going to have a tougher time in -- the line. That brings me to the political response. What has been the political response so far to his selection? Mitch McConnell -- the Senate leader came out and said we were not going to allow a confirmation process to go forward for any nominee the president Obama puts forward for their consideration. They are able to cite this statement made by Joe Biden back when he was US senator from Rhode Island -- and chair of the judiciary committee. In the last year George Bush -- he said he was not going to allow George Bush senior to appoint anyone to the Supreme Court in those remaining months of his office. I have heard some -- something floated in circles about Judge Garland not being a staunch upholder of the second amendment. Is that also going around? We are hearing that. Some of the people connected with the NRA and worried about gun control point out that Judge Garland was one of the people who was willing to allow a rehearing of the case that would eventually become District of Columbia versus Heller. That was the US Supreme Court case -- the DC ordinance on guns. They are already starting some political rumblings as to whether it would be a good appointment for gun issues. Have US Supreme Court nominees always been subject to such intense ideological scrutiny? We find that this has never -- as much as the last three decades we have nothing the kind of Supreme Court politics. You can go back to the Carswell back in the Nixon years. It has been much more contentious on the judicial politics than any country in the last three or four decades. There isn't really any historical case I'm aware of -- just because it is an election year, the Senate blocked any kind of confirmation hearings on a nominee for the court. So Glenn -- in normal times what would happen after the president announces his nominee for the High Court? There would be a series of personal visits and by the nominee to all the senators and some cordial discussions. Then there would be very detailed questionnaire sent to the nominee. A series of hearings by the judiciary committee. All of this is time-consuming -- but ordinarily where there is goodwill and willingness to cooperate it can be done in two or three months. Even if the majority party were open to considering the nominee he probably would not be able to be installed before this latest Supreme Court session ends. That is right. President Obama said -- the arch quickly for people to act. So they can start business in his next term in October. The things we speculated about in a past program in terms of -- vote on the cases, looks like even if there were expeditious action for those was still happen. The question is if the court going to be without a ninth tie-breaking member will into the spring. And that begins to look substantially more problematic for the court as an institution. Professor. Ingo -- there has been a scenario being floated that if a Democrat wins the presidency in November, the GOP Senate will lift its opposition and allow the vote by Providence nominee before the next president takes office. Do you think that sounds like we? There is no precedence for that happening. If you think about -- even one of our greatest chief justices in the Supreme Court -- John Marshall Kane and because John Adams had been made a lame duck in the elections. Mr. Justice our greatest chief justice wound up in a product of the Senate getting someone confirmed for the new administration and the new Congress will take ill -- office. Are their political risk involved in a strategy like that? Yes -- of course. A number of members are already worried that if the Senate blocks the confirmation hearing from happening at all they might face difficulties in their reelection campaigns. This is one of the reasons why they fight the Biden rule were Biden had actually set this presidency by saying he was going to block any further Supreme Court nominations by George Bush Senior. It is a strategic game -- I don't know who will end up winning the ultimate collection and what kind of Congress are Senate would come. Of course they are playing a game on figuring out if it can be worse than someone like Merrick Garland as the new appointee. As Glenn points out the lease for the next few months in the status quo with a eight-member Supreme Court. I've been speaking with Glenn Smith and James Ingram -- professor of political science at San Diego State University. Thank you both very much.

President Barack Obama nominated appeals court judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court on Wednesday, challenging Republicans to drop their adamant refusal to even consider his choice in an election year.

Obama called Garland, a long-time jurist and former prosecutor, "one of America's sharpest legal minds" and deserving of a full hearing and Senate confirmation vote. Republican leaders, however, have said the vacant high court seat should not be filled until a new president is elected, a stance Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell emphasized immediately after the White House announcement.

Garland, 63, is the chief judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, a court whose influence over federal policy and national security matters has made it a proving ground for potential Supreme Court justices.

He would replace conservative, Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last month, leaving behind a bitter election-year fight over the future of the court.

Obama announced his choice at a ceremony in the Rose Garden, with Democratic Senate leaders and allies looking on.

Garland, who had been passed over before, choked back tears, calling the nomination "the greatest honor of my life." He described his grandparents' flight from anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe and his modest upbringing.

He said he viewed a judge's job as a mandate to set aside personal preferences to "follow the law, not make it."

Obama held up Garland as diligent public servant, highlighting his work leading the investigation into the Oklahoma City bombing and prosecutions. He quoted past praise for Garland from Chief Justice John Roberts and Sen. Orrin Hatch. And he said Garland's talent for bringing together "odd couples" made him a consensus candidate best poised to become an immediate force on the nation's highest court.

The president urged the Republican-led Senate not to let the particularly fierce and partisan political climate quash the nomination of a "serious man."

"This is precisely the time when we should play it straight," Obama said.

Garland was confirmed to the D.C. Circuit in 1997 with backing from a majority in both parties, including seven current Republicans senators.

If confirmed, Garland would be expected to align with the more liberal members, but he is not viewed as down-the-line liberal. Particularly on criminal defense and national security cases, he's earned a reputation as centrist, and one of the few Democratic-appointed judges Republicans might have a fast-tracked to confirmation — under other circumstances.

In the current climate, Garland remains a tough sell. Republicans control the Senate, which must confirm any nominee, and GOP leaders want to leave the choice to the next president, denying Obama a chance to alter the ideological balance of the court before he leaves office next January. Republicans contend that a confirmation fight in an election year would be too politicized.

Republicans have set up a task force that will orchestrate attack ads, petitions and media outreach. On the other side, Obama allies are to run a Democratic effort targeting states where Republicans might feel political heat for opposing hearings.

Obama's choice risks deflating some of the energy among the Democratic base. Progressives and civil rights activists had pushed the president to name an African-American woman or to otherwise continue his efforts to expand the court's diversity.

Garland — a white, male jurist with an Ivy League pedigree and career spent largely in the upper echelon of Washington's legal elite — breaks no barriers. At 63 years old, he would be the oldest Supreme Court nominee since Lewis Powell, who was 64 when he was confirmed in 1971.

Presidents tend to appoint young judges with the hope they will shape the court's direction for as long as possible.

Those factors had, until now, made Garland something of a perpetual bridesmaid, repeatedly on Obama's Supreme Court lists but never chosen.

But he is finding his moment at a time when Democrats are seeking to apply maximum pressure on Republicans. A key part of their strategy is casting Republicans as obstructionists ready to shoot down a nominee that many in their own ranks once considered a consensus candidate. In 2010, Hatch called Garland "terrific" and said he could be confirmed "virtually unanimously."

A native of Chicago and graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, Garland clerked for two appointees of Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower — the liberal U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan Jr. and Judge Henry J. Friendly, for whom Roberts also clerked.

In 1988, he gave up a partner's office in a powerhouse law firm to cut his teeth in criminal cases. As an assistant U.S. attorney, he joined the team prosecuting a Reagan White House aide charged with illegal lobbying and did early work on the drug case against then-D.C. Mayor Marion Barry. He held a top-ranking post in the Justice Department when he was dispatched to Oklahoma City the day after the bombing at the federal courthouse to supervise the investigation. The case made his reputation. He oversaw the convictions of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, and later supervised the investigation into Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.

President Bill Clinton first nominated him to the D.C. Circuit in 1995.

His prolonged confirmation process then may have prepared him for the one ahead. Garland waited 2½ years to win confirmation to the appeals court. Then, as now, one of the men blocking his path was Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, who argued he had no quarrel with Garland's credentials but a beef with the notion of a Democratic president trying to fill a court Grassley felt had too many seats.

Grassley ultimately relented, although he was not one of the 32 Republicans who voted in favor of Garland's confirmation. Nor was Sen. Mitch McConnell, the other major hurdle for Garland now. The Republicans who voted in favor of confirmation are Hatch, Sen. Dan Coats, Sen. Thad Cochran, Sen. Susan Collins, Sen. Jim Inhofe, Sen. John McCain, and Sen. Pat Roberts.

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