WASHINGTON – An emotional Judge Merrick Garland took the podium at the Rose Garden on Wednesday morning to express his gratitude for being nominated the Supreme Court nominee by President Barack Obama.
He would replace Justice Antonin Scalia who died Feb. 13.
“This is the greatest honor of my life – other than Lynn agreeing to marry me 28 years ago,” a teary Garland told reporters, senators and White House staffers assembled for the announcement. His daughter, Jessie Garland, also attended the event.
A native of Chicago, Garland, 63, holds undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard University. He clerked for a federal judge and for Supreme Court Justice William Brennan. He became a partner at the prestigious D.C. law firm, Arnold & Porter, where he focused on litigation for disadvantaged Americans. He left that job to work as a federal prosecutor in President George H.W. Bush’s administration.
Garland’s parents fled the border of Eastern Europe and Western Russia in the 1900s to escape antisemitism and to make what he said a better life for their family.
“It was the sense of responsibility to serve a community, instilled by my parents, that led me to leave my law firm to become a line prosecutor in 1989,” Garland said.
Obama said Garland has a “sterling record.”
“This was a time when crime here in Washington had reached epidemic proportions, and he wanted to help,” Obama said. “And he quickly made a name for himself, going after corrupt politicians and violent criminals. … He oversaw some of the most significant prosecutions in the 1990s – including overseeing every aspect of the federal response to the Oklahoma City bombing.”
Garland, regarded as a moderate liberal, garnered the votes of seven current Republican senators in 1997 when he was confirmed for the appeals court on a 76-23 vote. He became the chief judge in 2013.
But it’s not clear if Senate Republicans will adhere to their refusal to hold hearings until a new president takes office in January.
“At a time when our politics are so polarized, at a time when norms and customs of political rhetoric and courtesy and comity are so often treated like they’re disposable – this is precisely the time when we should play it straight, and treat the process of appointing a Supreme Court justice with the seriousness and care it deserves,” Obama said. “Because our Supreme Court really is unique. It’s supposed to be above politics.”
Obama urged the Senate to perform its constitutional duties of giving Garland a fair hearing. He said that, as president, he will not stop working in his final year of his term, just as senators should not.
“I hope they’re fair,” Obama said. “That’s all. I hope they are fair. As they did when they confirmed Merrick Garland to the D.C. Circuit, I ask that they confirm Merrick Garland now to the Supreme Court, so that he can take his seat in time to fully participate in its work for the American people this fall.”
But on Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., vowed to block the nomination.
“It is a president’s constitutional right to nominate a Supreme Court justice, and it is the Senate’s constitutional right to act as a check on a president, and withhold its consent,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, released a statement following Obama’s announcement, repeating what both McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said is a decision that should be made by the American people in the presidential election.
“A lifetime appointment that could dramatically impact individual freedoms and change the direction of the court for at least a generation is too important to get bogged down in politics,” Grassley wrote. “The American people shouldn’t be denied a voice.”
If appointed, Garland vowed to continue to uphold the law through justice, and not through partisanship or prejudice.
“Fidelity to the Constitution and the law has been the cornerstone of my professional life, and it’s the hallmark of the kind of judge I have tried to be for the past 18 years,” Garland concluded. “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.”
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