President Obama nominated federal Judge Merrick Garland to replace Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, setting up a showdown with Senate Republicans, who stuck to their vow to block any nomination Obama makes. Here's how the day unfolded:
The stubborn refusal of Senate Republicans to consider any Supreme Court nominee offered by President Obama would be outrageous, regardless of whom the president selected to succeed Justice Antonin Scalia. But Obama's announcement Wednesday that he will nominate Merrick Garland, a moderate federal appeals court judge who has won bipartisan praise during a long and distinguished legal career, puts the Republicans' irresponsibility and cheap partisanship in even starker relief.
Garland, 63, is the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, on which he served with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who once said that "any time Judge Garland disagrees, you know you're in a difficult area."
Incredibly, Obama and Garland had barely finished a Rose Garden news conference before prominent Republicans reiterated that they would refuse to give Garland fair consideration. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) dusted off the specious argument that because Obama is in his final year as president, his exercise of his appointment power must be held hostage to the results of the November election. "Give the people a voice in the filling of this vacancy," McConnell pleaded.
This is a preposterous argument, and a cynical one to boot.
Perhaps the biggest supporting role in the Supreme Court nomination battle goes to Vice President Joe Biden, a veteran of these battles who is also known for his often-memorable lines.
President Obama relied on Biden as a regular sounding board throughout the process, one who was advocating a "consensus candidate," according to a person familiar with the process.
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also has enlisted Biden to make the opposing case — for blocking the nominee.
The GOP leader is relying on a summer 1992 speech given by Biden, then-chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. In the address, Biden urged President George H.W. Bush not to send a court nominee for confirmation so close to a presidential election.
"President Bush should consider following the practice of the majority of his predecessors and not — not — name a nominee until after the November election is completed," Biden said from the Senate floor at the time.
McConnell gave another reminder of that speech Wednesday as Republicans have repeatedly since it surfaced a few weeks ago, dubbing Biden's proposal the Biden Rule.
“Let me remind colleagues what Vice President Biden said when he was Judiciary Chairman here in the Senate," McConnell said from the Senate floor.
McConnell has drawn heavily on the Biden Rule to defend the Senate GOP's snap decision last month after Justice Antonin Scalia's sudden death to refuse to even consider Obama's nominee, no matter who it turned out to be.
But Biden allies and others say the situations are not comparable.
First, no actual Supreme Court vacancy existed when Biden gave that address.
"This was in June; there was nobody even being considered at the time," Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the minority leader, said recently.
"Now understand, Joe has made a few statements over the years on a lot of things, but in this one instance, it really doesn't mean a thing because nothing was pending."
And more importantly for Democrats, Biden also said in that same speech that if Bush consulted extensively with Democrats or "moderates" about his selection, an election-year nomination could win Biden's support.
Biden offered his own spin on the "Biden Rule" on Twitter after the Garland announcement:
As phone calls go, this was not a long conversation.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell decided it would be "more considerate" to speak to Judge Merrick Garland directly by phone Wednesday.
And so when the White House asked McConnell if he would like to speak with President Obama's nominee to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court, the Kentucky Republican got on the line.
He quickly made clear his position that he doesn't intend to let the Senate vote on Garland's nomination while Obama remains in office.
"The leader reiterated his position that the American people will have a voice in this vacancy and that the Senate will appropriately revisit the matter when it considers the qualifications of the person the next president nominates," according to a statement from a McConnell aide.
"And since the Senate will not be acting on this nomination, he would not be holding a perfunctory meeting, but he wished Judge Garland well."
When Merrick Garland attended Niles West High School in the late 1960s, he was the sort of young man who seemed destined for big things. He was valedictorian and head of the student council, the possessor of a long list of academic honors.
But as Garland tries to gain a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, classmate James Donenberg said his time on the school’s debate team might prove to be the most relevant part of his past.
“He’s always been a person who wants to look at every side of an issue,” said Donenberg, now an accountant in Northbrook, Ill. “He wants to understand things, all points of view. He tries not to be judgmental in that sense. He’s very fair-minded about everything.”
Garland’s friends and former schoolmates reacted with pride upon learning that President Obama had nominated him for a seat on the nation’s highest court. They recalled him as intelligent, kind, popular and successful at anything he tried, from winning the lead role in a school play to claiming first place in a statewide science contest.
“Whenever anyone talked about the top student in the class, it was Merrick Garland,” recalled classmate Howard Bulgatz.
Garland grew up in Lincolnwood, Ill. His father was a small businessman and his mother was a community volunteer. According to the White House, he worked in a shoe store and sold his comic book collection to help pay his way through Harvard University and Harvard Law School.
Dr. Robert Loitz, a pediatric cardiologist in Los Angeles, was one year behind Garland at Niles West and had known him since elementary school, Loitz recalled Wednesday. In high school, they participated in Niles West’s championship academic teams for the Prep Bowl and “It’s Academic,” a televised competition that garnered a great deal of attention, Loitz said.
“You look back on it, it’s almost inevitable that he would have ended up in a position like this,” said Loitz, who recalled that Garland was “a great role model to the rest of us because he was very level-headed … very disciplined, mature and friendly, always a calming influence.”
Like Loitz, Garland loved trivia and enjoyed playing bridge with an intellectually focused group at Niles West, Loitz recalled. Garland and Loitz also served on a student advocacy group that formally opposed education cuts at Niles West, Loitz said. The two also called for eliminating a system that awarded honors-track students an additional point on their grade-point average for taking an honors course.
The two boys believed that system “stratified people,” Loitz said.
Garland was very focused on getting to Harvard and becoming a lawyer, Loitz added. His selection as valedictorian seemed “preordained” because of his “special talents,” Loitz added, “but he never had that air about him. He was very approachable.”
After graduation, the two men lost touch — Garland headed to Harvard; Loitz to Stanford.
Jason Ness, the current principal of Niles West, in Skokie, Ill, said students and faculty watched on television Wednesday morning as Obama introduced Garland as his nominee.
“This is the ultimate role model here in Judge Garland,” Ness said. “For the kids to understand that this was a student at one point, sitting in the same seats and chairs, will motivate them to really go above and beyond themselves and to reach out to help others.”
I’ve selected a nominee who 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. These qualities, and his long commitment to public service, have earned him the respect and admiration of leaders from both sides of the aisle.
President Obama's nomination of federal appeals court Judge Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court led some pundits to declare that Republicans would be hard-pressed to oppose him. But as Republicans and conservative groups made abundantly clear within minutes of the announcement, the issue isn't who got nominated. It's who did the nominating.
"Nominee Makes No Difference," as the Concerned Women for America put it succinctly in the headline of its news release Wednesday morning. "This nomination will upset the balance of the Supreme Court to the radical left for many decades. Such a seismic shift in the highest court of the land must be presented to the people," said Penny Nance, the group's president.
Granted, when you're standing where Nance is standing, anyone to the left of John Kasich looks radical. But the polarization around this issue could put Republican senators in a no-win position.
In saying he would refuse to consider Judge Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court, Sen. Ted Cruz attacked not President Obama, but his own GOP rival Donald Trump.
The conservative Texas presidential hopeful called Obama's pick for the court exactly the kind of "so-called 'moderate'" that Trump would choose as a compromise with Democrats.
"We cannot afford to lose the Supreme Court for generations to come by nominating or confirming someone that a deal maker like Donald Trump would support," Cruz said.
"I proudly stand with my Republican colleagues in our shared belief - our advice and consent - that we should not vote on any nominee until the next president is sworn into office. The people will decide."
By many measures, Judge Merrick Garland is what Washington calls a consensus nominee for the Supreme Court.
But the Senate's 76-23 vote to approve his confirmation to the District of Columbia Circuit Court in 1997 contained two notable dissents.
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), now the Senate Majority Leader, and Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), now the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, were among the no votes.
GOP aides explained that Grassley's objections at the time — like now — were not over the person, but the process.
There were too many judges on the D.C. court for the workload, he believed.
While on the campaign trail, Hillary Clinton has repeatedly blasted Senate Republican leaders for saying they wouldn't consider any Supreme Court nominee from President Obama in an election year.
She repeated those criticisms on Wednesday after Obama nominated federal judge Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy created by the death of Antonin Scalia.
President Obama’s choice for the Supreme Court is a highly credentialed, sober jurist who checks exactly none of the boxes drawn out by Democratic strategists who were hoping the pick might be useful in the November elections.
Merrick Garland is a white man from Chicago, a 63-year-old with a centrist record and a career story as neat as his shock of white hair.
As Obama said in the Rose Garden on Wednesday, though, he set aside “short-term expediency and narrow politics” to make his choice.
He’s not turning away from politics altogether, of course. If he successfully paints Republicans as unfairly stubborn, that still likely helps Democrats in the fall elections. And if Obama is really successful, he could conceivably score another political win by forcing Republicans to hold confirmation hearings for Garland.
But Obama is also thinking about his own legacy. A fresh illustration of Republican intransigence, especially on a compromise proposal, potentially highlights the stonewalling that he sees as an important theme of his presidency.
A constitutional lawyer who reveres the high court, Obama cast his decision in historic terms.
He felt he had to “maintain faith with our founders,” he said, “and perhaps more importantly with future generations.”
Especially those who will write his history.
A handful of swing-state Republicans up for reelection this fall face scrutiny over their refusal to consider President Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court.
Though Republican voters are generally pleased with the Senate GOP's decision to block any nominee, independent voters in an unusual election cycle that could select Donald Trump as the Republican nominee are less supportive.
Most voters disagree with the GOP's approach, according to the most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
That means potentially tough campaigns ahead for Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and Sen.Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, among others, as they fight to keep the Senate in Republican control.
Even before Obama nominated Merrick Garland, the chief judge of the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Columbia, the attack ads began on TV.
Digital ads followed Wednesday against Ayotte, part of a $1.5-million effort directing voters to a website "where they can further learn about Kelly Ayotte siding with Trump and her party bosses in refusing to consider any Supreme Court nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia," according to a statement from Senate Majority PAC.
Ayotte issued a statement Wednesday about the nominee and her decision to wait until the next president is elected to confirm a new justice on the high court.
"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," she said. "I continue to believe the Senate should not move forward with the confirmation process until the people have spoken by electing a new president.”
Portman also stuck with the congressional GOP leadership's argument that the decision to wait was "about the principle, not the person."
"After the election, I look forward to considering the nominee of our new president," Portman said.
The head of the Republicans' campaign committee, Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, has said the GOP's position is sustainable through the November election.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee portrayed Garland as "a liberal, an activist, and one of Obama’s most reliable allies in the judicial system."
Besides, GOP strategists have said, they doubt the court battle will become a deciding issue as voters cast ballots in fall.
A bit of wiggle room was offered Wednesday by Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, who did not explicitly say he wouldn't consider Garland, only that he wouldn't vote for him.
"The president has every right to nominate someone, and the Senate has the constitutional responsibility to decide if it’s the right person at the right time. I will not vote for this nominee to the Supreme Court.”
When Woodrow Wilson chose Louis D. Brandeis for the Supreme Court, the prospect that the nation's highest judicial body would include a Jewish member was so controversial that for the first time in history, the Senate held public hearings on a high court nomination.
One hundred years later, the Supreme Court could have four Jewish justices if President Obama's choice of Merrick B. Garland is confirmed. The other five justices are Catholics.
Protestants dominated the Supreme Court's ranks for most of U.S. history, but no member of the court has been a Protestant since Justice David Souter retired in 2009 and was replaced by Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
From the time of Brandeis' appointment until 1969, the high court had what was often referred to as a "Jewish seat," filled, in succession, by Brandeis and Justices Felix Frankfurter, Arthur Goldberg and Abe Fortas. After Fortas left the court in 1969, there were no Jewish justices until President Bill Clinton appointed Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1993.
When Clinton appointed Stephen Breyer the following year, the court had two Jewish justices for only the second time — the previous being while Justices Brandeis and Benjamin Cardozo both served from 1932 to 1938.
Justice Elena Kagan, appointed by Obama in 2010, is the third current Jewish member of the court.
At 63, Merrick Garland was seen by some as too old to be named to the Supreme Court.
Presidents nowadays prefer to elevate younger judges, in their 40s and 50s, who can have an impact on the Supreme Court for several decades.
If confirmed, Garland would be the oldest justice in more than 40 years, since President Richard Nixon named Lewis F. Powell Jr., then 64, to the court in 1972.
When Nixon asked Powell to take the appointment, Powell initially demurred, saying that he was too old. Nixon told him, as Nixon later wrote, that “10 years of Lewis Powell on the court was worth 20 years for anyone else.”
Even so, Garland's age probably means this could be his last chance to reach the high court. It's unclear whether a future Democratic president would nominate him again, when he is even older, for a subsequent opening.
That explains why Garland might be willing to put himself through what promises to be a bruising confirmation battle.
Senators fell quickly along partisan lines as they reacted to President Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.
Rank-and-file Republicans continued to insist that they will block consideration of any nominee until a new president is in the White House -- a position that pleases the conservative base but is rejected in polls by most Americans.
Democrats closed ranks to back Obama's choice, reminding that Garland was overwhelmingly approved by the Senate for his job on the U.S. Circuit Court.
Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said Obama "has chosen carefully, and well."
“Chief Judge Garland is undeniably fair-minded and independent, and it is no wonder that he has received praise from across the political spectrum. He should be confirmed without controversy."
Republicans, though, pledged to refuse to consider Obama's choice, regardless of his qualifications.
“While the president has the constitutional authority to make a nomination to fill this vacancy, the Senate also has the authority and responsibility to determine how to move forward with it," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the No. 2 Republican in the Senate.
“At this critical juncture in our nation's history, Texans and the American people deserve to have a say in the selection of the next lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court," he said. “The only way to empower the American people and ensure they have a voice is for the next president to make the nomination to fill this vacancy.”
Other Republicans were more measured with their opposition.
"The president has every right to nominate someone, and the Senate has the constitutional responsibility to decide if it’s the right person at the right time," said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). "I will not vote for this nominee to the Supreme Court.”
But Democrats repeated the president's call on the Senate to do its job.
"The president has fulfilled his constitutional responsibility and now the U.S. Senate must do the same," said Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), the assistant minority leader, noting Garland was born in Chicago.
"No Senate has ever denied a hearing to a presidential nominee to fill a Supreme Court vacancy," Durbin said. "In the name of fairness and our Constitution, the Senate Republican majority must do its job and give Judge Garland a public hearing and a timely vote."
The prayers of a southern Indian village went unanswered Wednesday morning when President Obama named Merrick Garland as his next Supreme Court nominee.
Distant relatives and well-wishers of Sri Srinivasan, above, believed to be a strong candidate for the nomination, had been holding services in his honor in the riverside hamlet of Mela Thiruvenkatanathapuram, where Srinivasan's father and grandfather were born.
It's about a principle and not a person ... It seems President Obama made this nomination not with the intent of seeing a nominee confirmed, but in order to politicize it for the purposes of the election.
President Obama said Wednesday he will nominate federal Judge Merrick Garland to serve on the Supreme Court, challenging the resolve of Republican senators opposed to an election-year confirmation by naming an experienced jurist with a strong reputation as a centrist.
In an appearance with Garland in the White House Rose Garden, Obama praised Garland as the kind of candidate he had promised to choose: one with sterling credentials and widely respected temperament.
Garland is known as “one of America’s sharpest legal minds,” Obama said, adding that he “brings to his work a spirit of decency, modesty, integrity, even-handedness and excellence.”
“These qualities and his long commitment to public service have earned him the respect and admiration from leaders from both sides of the aisle,” Obama said.
Obama aides believe his nomination may move senators off their repeated pledge not to hold meetings with the nominee of a president who has less than a year left in his term.
Some officials in the White House even believe they stand a shot of a Senate confirmation hearing for Garland.
Watch President Obama announce his pick of Judge Merrick Garland to replace Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.