WASHINGTON (CN) - Calling weeks of bluffs from Senate Republicans, President Barack Obama named Chief Judge Merrick Garland as his choice Wednesday to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Announcing his pick this morning in the Rose Garden, where a pair of cherry blossom trees bloomed in full springtime regalia, Obama praised Garland's commitment to public service and pleaded with the GOP to give the D.C. Circuit chief a fair hearing.
"To suggest that someone as qualified and respected as Merrick Garland doesn't even deserve a hearing, let alone an up-or-down vote to join an institution as important as our Supreme Court, when two-thirds of Americans believe otherwise?" Obama said. "That would be unprecedented."
Calling Garland "uniquely qualified" to serve on the high court, the president praised the Harvard alumnus for walking away from his partnership at the firm Arnold & Porter to work as a federal prosecutor under the first Bush administration.
Obama also singled out a story from Garland's high school days in Illinois, when the future judge used his valedictory address to defend the constitutional right to free speech. Before the teenage Garland took to the podium, parents had unplugged a microphone the previous speaker was using to deliver a fiery speech against the Vietnam War.
Obama also lauded Garland's 19-year career with the D.C. Circuit, careful to note that Republicans overwhelmingly supported Garland's appointment in the Clinton administration. The president specifically mentioned Sen. Orin Hatch, R-Utah, as having supported Garland's nomination in 1997.
Hatch now serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee that has joined Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell's call to stonewall any nominee Obama puts forward.
With Republicans insisting that Obama's successor should name the next Supreme Court justice, it remains unclear how Donald Trump's continued successes in the primary season over establishment candidates will affect their pledge.
Visibly emotional after Obama's introduction, Garland cast himself as a centrist intent on viewing the law through a nonpartisan lens.
"Trust that justice will be done in our courts without prejudice and partisanship is what in large part distinguishes this country from others," Garland said. "People must be confident that a judge's decisions are determined by the law, and only the law."
Garland called the appointment "the greatest honor" of his life, other than when his wife agreed to marry him. He also lamented that his father could not share the proud moment with him, as well as his daughter, who Garland said was hiking in the mountains and was without cell service.
Throughout his remarks, Obama emphasized Garland's track record of bipartisanship and fairness, and said the judge has always considered opposing viewpoints when making decisions on the law.
"He's shown rare ability to bring together odd couples, to assemble unlikely coalitions, persuade colleagues with wide-ranging judicial philosophies to sign on to his opinions," Obama said. "This record on the bench speaks, I believe to Judge Garland's fundamental temperament, his insistence that all views deserve a respectful hearing."
Despite Obama's hopes, Garland's bipartisan approval does not seem to have softened Senate Republicans on the nomination.
Sen. McConnell, R-Ky., recommitted the party to blocking the nominee in a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday.
"It seems clear that President Obama made this nomination not with the intent of seeing the nominee confirmed but in order to politicize it for purposes of the election - which is the type of thing then-Senate Judiciary Chairman Biden was concerned about," McConnell said, referring to a recently unearthed floor speech by the vice president when he was a senator. "The Biden Rule underlines that what the president has done with this nomination would be unfair to any nominee, and more importantly the rule warns of the great costs the President's action could carry for our nation."
Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, also dug in on his party's position.
"Today the president has exercised his constitutional authority," Grassley said in a statement. "A majority of the Senate has decided to fulfill its constitutional role of advice and consent by withholding support for the nomination during a presidential election year, with millions of votes having been cast in highly charged contests."
The Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee were seated near the front of the 200-strong audience Wednesday, while no Republicans appeared to be in attendance.
Garland did win approval by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton this morning, who noted that "the Senate has never taken more than 125 days to vote on a Supreme Court nominee."
"This Senate has almost a full year to consider and confirm Judge Garland," Clinton said. "It should begin that work immediately by giving Judge Garland a full and fair hearing followed by a vote. That is what the American people deserve, it is what our Constitution demands, and with millions of people's lives in the balance, anything less is entirely unacceptable."
Obama concluded his remarks in the Rose Garden with a direct warning to Senate Republicans of the consequences their obstruction could have on the future of the judicial-nomination process and the reputation of the Supreme Court.
"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. It will mean everything is subject to the most partisan of politics."
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