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Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland with President Obama in the Rose Garden at the White House, March 16, 2016 

CREDIT: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Obama Nominates a Supreme Court Justice

The president has announced his pick for the Supreme Court. Republicans are vowing not to consider any Obama nominee.

President Obama has nominated Merrick Garland, a widely respected federal appeals court judge, to fill the vacancy left on the Supreme Court by the sudden death last month of Justice Antonin Scalia.

The unexpected opening on the nation’s highest court in the midst of a bitterly fought presidential election campaign immediately set off a massive political battle. Republicans have insisted that it would violate the will of the American people for a president who has less than a year left of his second term to name someone to the Court. Democrats have countered that it’s the president’s constitutional obligation to nominate a justice.

Judge Garland is “widely recognized not only as one of America’s sharpest legal minds, but someone who brings to his work a spirit of decency, modesty, integrity, even-handedness, and excellence,” said President Obama, announcing his choice in the Rose Garden of the White House on Wednesday morning. “These qualities and his long commitment to public service have earned him the respect and admiration from leaders from both sides of the aisle.”

In choosing Judge Garland, a well-known moderate who has drawn bipartisan support for decades, Obama is essentially daring Republicans to press on with their election-year confirmation fight over a judge many of them have publicly praised and who would be difficult for them to reject. What’s more, if a Democrat were to win the November presidential election, the Senate would likely face the prospect of a more liberal nominee in 2017.

“I simply ask Republicans in the Senate to give him a fair hearing, and then an up or down vote,” Obama said. “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.”

Judge Garland is often described as brilliant and, at 63, is older than many Supreme Court nominees. He’s two years older than Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who has been with the court for more than 10 years. The two served together on the federal appeals court and are said to be friends.

Stakes Are High

Over the past few weeks, a group of Obama administration strategists have been working with activist groups that have played a role in previous court fights to prepare an aggressive campaign against Republicans. They plan to hammer Republicans with criticism for failing to undertake what Democrats will describe as a fundamental Senate duty.

Republicans are also prepared. They intend to stress their view that the dispute over whether to consider the president’s pick has nothing to do with the actual nominee; what they object to, they say, is allowing the president to fill the vacancy with less than a year left in office.

“In the midst of a presidential election and a consequential debate about the future of our country, I believe the American people deserve to have a voice in the direction of the court,” says Senator Kelly Ayotte, a Republican from New Hampshire. “I continue to believe the Senate should not move forward with the confirmation process until the people have spoken by electing a new president.”

Judge Garland has been on Obama’s short list of potential nominees for years. In 2010, Obama interviewed him for the slot that he ultimately gave to Justice Elena Kagan. Back then, Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, said publicly that he had urged President Obama to nominate Judge Garland as “a consensus nominee” who would win Senate confirmation.

“I know Merrick Garland very well,” Senator Hatch said at the time. “He would be very well supported by all sides.”

The stakes in this battle are high. Justice Scalia was one of the most influential conservative voices on the Court, and his death has left the Supreme Court evenly divided, with four liberal justices and four conservatives. A new justice appointed by Obama could be the deciding vote in several close cases—and could set the direction of American legal decisions for decades to come.

With reporting by Michael D. Shear, Gardiner Harris, and Jennifer Steinhauer of The New York Times.

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