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President Obama: Supreme Court process “beyond repair” if GOP refuses hearing

President Obama with his Supreme Court nominee Merrick B. Garland on Wednesday.
President Obama with his Supreme Court nominee Merrick B. Garland on Wednesday.
(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

President Barack Obama called his Supreme Court choice, Merrick Garland, "a consensus nominee" in a speech in the Rose Garden on Wednesday morning.

Republicans have promised to oppose any justice nominated by Obama before the presidential election. But several conservatives are on record as praising Garland, which will make it at least more politically difficult for Republicans to refuse to confirm him.

Obama said Garland's bipartisan appeal was a strong factor in his decision, arguing that the Supreme Court "should be above politics."

"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."

The choice of Garland, 63, may disappoint some liberals who wanted Obama to find a more progressive nominee. But Obama argued that the Supreme Court was too important for liberals and conservatives to each continue to advance their own agenda with no regard for institutional norms.

"It is tempting to make this confirmation process simply an extension of our divided politics," Obama said. "But to go down that path would be wrong."

Obama cites Republicans' prior support for Garland

In his Rose Garden speech, Obama stressed leading Republicans' support for Garland during and after Garland's confirmation to the DC Circuit Court.

"During that confirmation process, (Garland) earned overwhelming bipartisan praise from senators and legal experts alike," Obama said. "Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, who was then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, supported his nomination."

Obama continued to cite Hatch's prior support for Garland: "Back then, [Hatch] said, 'In all honesty, I would like to see one person come to this floor and say one reason why Merrick Garland does not deserve this position.' He actually accused fellow Senate Republicans trying to obstruct Merrick's confirmation of playing politics with judges."

Garland, chief judge of the District of Columbia Circuit Court, previously served as an assistant US attorney and as a senior official in Bill Clinton's Department of Justice.

Obama said the need to overcome a partisan battle over his Supreme Court fight was crucial to his pick.

"It's a decision that requires me to set aside short time expediency and narrow politics so as to maintain faith with our founders and, perhaps more importantly, with future generations," Obama said. "That's why over the past several weeks I have done my best to set up a rigorous and comprehensive process. I have sought the advice of Republicans and Democratic members of Congress. We have reached out to every member of the Senate Judiciary Committee."

"I said I would take this process seriously," he continued, "and I did."

Who is Merrick Garland?

Garland has been considered a possible Supreme Court choice for a Democratic president for several years, but is almost certainly a more acceptable choice to Republicans than Obama's other options, according to Vox's Dylan Matthews.

"He has no shortage of conservative fans," Matthews writes. "In 2010, when he was being considered for the seat for which Elena Kagan was ultimately nominated, the conservative judicial appointments activist Carrie Severino offered measured praise for Garland."

Garland also has an extensive history in law enforcement that includes time as a prosecutor.

"Before his appointment to the court, he spent much of his career as a prosecutor, serving as an assistant US attorney and as a senior official in Bill Clinton's Department of Justice, where he supervised both the Oklahoma City bombing and Unabomber cases," Matthews says.

Garland: The nomination is "the greatest honor"

Garland, taking the podium after Obama introduced him, said this nomination was "the greatest honor I had ever received" — save his wife agreeing to marry him.

"Fidelity to the Constitution and the law has been the cornerstone of my professional life," Garland said. "And it is the hallmark of the kind of judge I have tried to be for the past 18 years. If the Senate sees fit to confirm me to the position for which I have been nominated today, I promise to continue on that course."