Obama names top court nominee

The Associated Press
Kathleen Hennessey

WASHINGTON—Ignoring Republican threats, U.S. President Barack Obama yesterday nominated appeals court judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, thrusting a respected moderate jurist and former prosecutor into the centre of an election-year clash over the future of the nation’s highest court.
Obama cast the 63-year-old Garland as “a serious man and an exemplary judge” deserving of a full hearing and a Senate confirmation vote—despite Republican vows to deny him both.
Standing in the White House Rose Garden with Garland, Obama argued the integrity of the court was at stake and appealed to the Senate to “play it straight” in filling the seat left vacant by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
“It’s supposed to be above politics,” Obama said of the high court.
“It has to be,” he stressed. “And it should stay that way.”
Republican leaders, however, held to their refusal to consider any nominee, saying the seat should be filled by the next president after this year’s election.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke with Garland by phone but did not change his position that “the American people will have a voice.”
He said he would not be holding “a perfunctory meeting but he wished Judge Garland well,” a spokesman said.
Still, some in the GOP ranks were wary of sticking to a no-hearing, no-vote, not-even-meeting stance.
Garland was to talk by phone to Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Charles Grassley while four other Republican senators—Jeff Flake of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire—also said they would meet with him.
The judge will visit senators today at the Capitol before the Senate breaks for a two-week recess.
The White House said that was evidence Garland’s weighty résumé and bipartisan credentials were putting pressure on Republicans.
Garland, 63, is the chief judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit—a court whose influence over federal policy and national security matters has made it a proving ground for potential justices.
A graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, Garland has clerked for two appointees of Republican president Dwight D. Eisenhower—the liberal Justice William Brennan Jr., as well as Judge Henry J. Friendly, for whom Chief Justice John Roberts also clerked.
As a federal prosecutor, he made his reputation overseeing the investigation and prosecutions in the Oklahoma City bombing case in 1995, as well as the case against “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski.
As a replacement for Scalia, Garland undoubtedly would shift the court away from its conservative tilt.
He would be expected to align with the more liberal members on environmental regulation, labour disputes, and campaign finance.
But he is not viewed as a down-the-line liberal.
Particularly on criminal defence and national security cases, he’s earned a reputation as centrist with a law-and-order streak—siding more often with prosecutors.
When his name was floated for the Supreme Court in the past, it was liberal groups that expressed concerns, pointing to early decisions favouring the government in disputes over the legal rights of detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison.
Progressives and civil rights activists had pushed the president to name an African-American woman or to otherwise expand the court’s diversity.
The president passed over appeals court Judge Sri Srinivasan, who would have been the first Asian-American justice, and Judge Paul Watford, who would have been the second African-American.