President Barack Obama nominated veteran appellate court judge Merrick Garland to the US Supreme Court on Wednesday, setting up a potentially ferocious political showdown with Senate Republicans who have vowed to block any Obama nominee.
Considered a moderate, Garland, 63, is currently chief judge of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. He was picked to replace long-serving conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who died on Feb. 13.
"I've selected a nominee who is widely recognised 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," Obama said in the White House Rose Garden.
"These qualities and his long commitment to public service have earned him the respect and admiration of leaders from both sides of the aisle [Democrats and Republicans]. He will ultimately bring that same character to bear on the Supreme Court, an institution in which he is uniquely prepared to serve immediately," Obama added.
Garland was visibly emotional as he accepted President Barack Obama's nomination in the White House Rose Garden with his family watching. He says being nominated by President Barack Obama is the greatest honor of his life, other than marrying his wife. He says there could be no higher public service in his view.
Garland says judges must put aside their personal views and preferences, and follow the law instead of making it. He says that's a hallmark of the judge he's tried to be for the last 18 years.
Senate confirmation is required for any nominee to join the bench and Senate Republicans have vowed not to hold confirmation hearings or a vote on any nominee picked by the Democratic president for the lifetime position on the court.
Republicans are demanding that Obama leave the seat vacant and let the next president, to be elected in November and sworn in next January, make the selection.
Garland, is a long-time appellate judge and former prosecutor who Obama also considered when he filled two previous Supreme Court vacancies.
In a foreshadowing of the pressure campaign the White House and its allies plan to wage in the coming weeks, the White House noted that seven current Republican US senators voted to confirm Garland to the DC Circuit court in 1997.
However, Republicans are holding firm against letting Obama’s nominee.
Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts says even though he voted for Garland when he was first confirmed in 1997, he's opposed now. He says it's not about the nominee, but about the process.
Roberts says Garland "may very well be a very good nominee." Still, he says the American people should decide and not Obama.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says the American people must have a voice in November on filling the Supreme Court vacancy.
In a speech on the Senate floor on Wednesday, the Kentucky Republican made it clear that the GOP-led Senate will not consider Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland, but will wait until after the next president is in place.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley isn't swayed by President Barack Obama's pick for a Supreme Court nominee.
In a statement issued just after Garland spoke in the White House Rose Garden, Republican Grassley said "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."
He said this year is an opportunity for the country to have an honest debate about the role of the Supreme Court.
Garland, who has earned praise from lawmakers of both parties in the past, was named to his current job by Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1997, winning Senate confirmation in a 76-23 vote. Prior to that, he worked in the Justice Department during the Clinton administration.
Without Scalia, the nine-member Supreme Court is evenly split with four liberals and four conservative justices. Obama's nominee could tilt the court to the left for the first time in decades.
Republicans, hoping a candidate from their party wins the Nov. 8 presidential election, want the next president to make the selection.
Billionaire Donald Trump is the leading Republican presidential candidate. Obama's former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, is the front-runner on the Democratic side.
Republicans and their allies already have geared up to fight Obama's nominee. The Republican National Committee on Monday announced the formation of a task force that will work with an outside conservative group to spearhead attack ads and other ways of pushing back against Obama's choice.
The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has served as a springboard to the Supreme Court for several justices including Scalia in recent decades.
Obama may have been looking for a nominee who could convince the Republicans to change course. Garland could fit that bill with his moderate record, background as a prosecutor and history of drawing Republican support.
Garland was under consideration by Obama when he filled two prior high court vacancies. Obama, in office since 2009, has already named two justices to the Supreme Court: Sonia Sotomayor, who at 55 became the first Hispanic justice in 2009, and Elena Kagan, who was 50 when she became the fourth woman ever to serve on the court in 2010.
Presidents tend to pick nominees younger than Garland, so they can serve for decades and extend a president's legacy. But Obama may reason that the choice of an older nominee might also entice Senate Republicans into considering Obama's selection.