Political News

Obama nominates Garland to high court, challenging GOP

Posted March 16, 2016

— 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 United States 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 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.

According to a recent WRAL News poll, 51 percent of North Carolinians believe the Senate should hold a hearing and vote on Obama's nominee, while 38 percent prefer waiting for the next president to nominate someone.

North Carolina's two Republican senators said, however, that confirming someone to the Supreme Court should wait until after the November election.

"The American people deserve a voice in the nomination of the next Supreme Court justice. This appointment could easily tip the balance of the court in a direction not supported by the American people, as evidenced by 2014’s election results giving Republicans both the Senate and House," Sen. Richard Burr said in a statement.

"This is about the principle, not the person," Sen. Thom Tillis said in a statement. "Rather than drag the nation into a bitter, partisan fight over a confirmation process that will never come to pass, I hope President Obama will use his final months in office to work across the aisle with Congress to produce meaningful solutions that create new opportunities for hard-working Americans."

Duke University law professor Neil Siegel called Garland a centrist who is "plausibly confirmable" by the Republican-controlled Senate, and he urged lawmakers not to delay a vote.

"Everyone has a stake in ensuring both that the court functions properly and that norms of Senate conduct do not unravel to the point where it becomes politically impossible to confirm any nominee unless the same party controls both the White House and the Senate," Siegel 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 firms 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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  • Sam Nada Mar 16, 2016
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    You're misinformed. The Dems never refused to consider a qualified candidate. The GOP announcing their refusal to even review a nominee regardless of who it would be is unprecedented in our history. Also, there's far less than a 50/50 chance of the GOP taking the WH. Check the polls to see what the public thinks of them abdicating their duty.

  • Lamario Kelly Mar 16, 2016
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    You have dumb ppl up here saying "President" Obama, (not just Obama to the ignorant ppl who have no respect, but say they are Americans)...has not helped out this country with what the GOP kept fighting him for. If you think he hasn't don't more than our last President then you guys/girls and just plain blinded by the obvious. Then again we are in a country where Trump might be nominated for the GOP, so I accept nothing less from the "Americans" in this country...

  • Howard Roark Mar 16, 2016
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    I wonder if the republicans truly feel they have a 50/50 chance. To many of them, the odds are not nearly in their favor if Trump is the nominee. Should be interesting to see how it all plays out.

  • Doug Bogard Mar 16, 2016
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    It is not going to happen, the GOP has said that the next President will choose.
    A few years ago the democrats said the same thing. It boils down to the GOP having a 50% chance of naming a SCJOP in January. Or letting Obama pick a liberal now. You have 4 liberals and 4 conservative's. The next SCJOP will dictate which direction the country will take. It is a smart political move by the GOP. If the democrats were in the GOP's shoes they would do the same thing.

  • Brendan Dillon Mar 16, 2016
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    Sure, the Senate has no legal requirement to act. They have no legal requirement to do anything. They could never pass any bill. They could never vote on any nominee to any court or executive agency, on any level. They could refuse to count electoral votes, and leave the Presidency vacant. They could spend their entire six-year terms sitting at home, and never gavel into session. But I'm pretty sure that's not what the Constitution's authors intended.

  • Jim Halbert Mar 16, 2016
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    I like this argument. If the senate literally has no constitutional responsibility to vote on a nominee then you're arguing that their vote is not actually required, and that the president can appoint his nominee on pure executive authority.

  • Brandy Lee Mar 16, 2016
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    Do you actually even know what you are saying? Yes, they do have a responsibility, just as the President has a legal responsibility to fill that seat.
    Furthermore they people voted Obama in for FOUR more years, NOT 3 - so it is his right to make that decision for the american people.

  • Sam Nada Mar 16, 2016
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    Silly comment. He's not daring anyone. He's fulfilling his responsibility. If he was cowed by the GOP's threats to do nothing he would justifiably be blamed for being weak and not doing the job he was elected to do. As it is the GOP is suffering in the court of public opinion, as they should:


  • Ron Coleman Mar 16, 2016
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    The King is at it again, daring them to go against him. They have no constitutional responsibility to consider or vote on any nominee and no time limit to do so if they decide to.

  • Sam Nada Mar 16, 2016
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    "There has not been one positive thing about the current POTUS."

    Check his approval ratings. The majority disagree with you.


    Compare to the GOP Congress approval rating: