Obama nominates Garland to high court, challenging GOP

President Barack Obama nominated appeals court judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court on Wednesday, 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.

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama nominated appeals court judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court on Wednesday, 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. 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.

Others in the GOP ranks were less wedded to the no-hearing, no-vote, not-even-a-meeting stance — a sign that Republicans are aware the strategy could leave them branded as obstructionist.

Unlike McConnell, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley said he is open to meeting with Garland in the coming weeks, as did five other Republican senators — Rob Portman of Ohio, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine, James Inhofe of Oklahoma and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. The judge will begin visiting with Democratic senators on Thursday at the Capitol, before the Senate breaks for a two-week recess.

Scheduling courtesy meetings is a long way from securing a full hearing, much less winning the 60 votes needed for confirmation. Still, the White House seized the comments as evidence Garland’s weighty resume 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.

When confirmed to the D.C. Circuit in 1997, Garland won backing from a majority in both parties, including seven current Republicans senators.

As a replacement for Scalia, Garland would undoubtedly 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.

The D.C. Circuit isn’t a hotbed for cases on social issues, leaving few solid indicators of Garland’s views on abortion rights or the death penalty.

Garland’s involvement in two high-profile gun rights cases has prompted concern from gun control opponents. In 2007, Garland wanted the full court to reconsider a panel decision that struck down Washington, D.C.’s ban on handgun ownership. But Garland never took a position on the merits of the case.

In 2000, he was part of a 2-1 majority that said the FBI could retain gun purchase records for six months to make sure the computerized instant background check system was working. The FBI’s position was challenged by the National Rifle Association and other gun rights groups.

But he is not viewed as a down-the-line liberal. He’s ruled against giving the District of Columbia a vote in Congress. 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 also had pushed the president to name an African-American woman or to otherwise expand the court’s diversity. Obama 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.

Garland — a white, male jurist with an Ivy League pedigree and a career largely in the upper echelon of Washington’s legal elite — breaks no barriers. He would be the oldest Supreme Court nominee since Lewis Powell, who was 64 when he was confirmed in 1971.

In emotional remarks in the Rose Garden, he choked back tears, calling the nomination “the greatest honour of my life.” He described his grandparents’ flight from anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe and his modest upbringing. He said he viewed a judge’s job as a mandate to set aside personal preferences and “follow the law, not make it.”

Obama quoted past praise for Garland from Roberts and Sen. Orrin Hatch. In 2010, Hatch said he could be confirmed to the highest court “virtually unanimously.”

Garland has experience with a prolonged confirmation process. He waited 2 1/2 years to win confirmation to the appeals court. Then, as now, one of the men blocking his path was Grassley, who argued he had no quarrel with Garland’s credentials but objected to a Democratic president trying to fill an appeals court he felt had too many seats.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Attendees of the Downtown Red Deer Market, which runs every Wednesday during the summer on Little Gaetz Avenue, have complained about the lack of public washrooms. (Photo contributed by Red Deer Downtown Business Association)
Portable washrooms to be set up in downtown Red Deer this summer

More data is needed before the city invests in a permanent structure

A survey of 3,083 Red Deer residents was done by an online platform on behalf of the City of Red Deer, generating about 11,607 comments.. (File photo)
Red Deerians speak out about COVID-19 concerns in survey

More than 3,000 city residents were surveyed

A Calgary energy company's request for a tax break was turned down by Lacombe County. About $31,000 was owed by a company that went bankrupt and Silverleaf Resources Inc. bought some of their assets.
(Advocate file photo)
Lacombe County turns down oil company’s tax break request

Silverleaf Resources Inc. hoped for break on $31,000 in back taxes

RCMP recovered hundreds of stolen items, including Bibles and historical items stolen from the Bowden Pioneer Museum.
(Photo from RCMP)
Museum artifacts among hundreds of stolen items recovered by RCMP in central Alberta

Second World War and other historical and religious items recovered

Red Deer dogs Bunsen and Beaker helped save a missing pet recently. The two dogs have more than 80,000 followers on Twitter. (Contributed photo)
WATCH: Red Deer science dogs help save lost pet

Red Deer science-communicating dogs Bunsen and Beaker helped rescue a missing pet… Continue reading

Edmonton Oilers' Kailer Yamamoto (56) and Toronto Maple Leafs' Morgan Rielly (44) reach for the rebound from Leafs goalie Michael Hutchinson (30) during second-period NHL action in Edmonton on Monday, March 1, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Michael Hutchinson earns 31-save shutout, Maple Leafs blank Oilers 3-0

Michael Hutchinson earns 31-save shutout, Maple Leafs blank Oilers 3-0

Washington Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman watches his solo home run during the third inning of a spring training baseball game against the Houston Astros Monday, March 1, 2021, in West Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
In-game video returning to baseball for 2021

In-game video returning to baseball for 2021

Winnipeg Jets' Nathan Beaulieu (88) clears the puck in front of goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (37) as Vancouver Canucks' Elias Pettersson (40) looks for the rebound during second-period NHL action in Winnipeg on Monday March 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
Three first-period goals pace Vancouver Canucks to 4-0 victory over Winnipeg Jets

Three first-period goals pace Vancouver Canucks to 4-0 victory over Winnipeg Jets

Rugby training gear is shown during a Torotno Wolfpack during a practice at Lamport Stadium in Toronto. Bradford, Featherstone, Leigh, London,  THE CANADIAN PRESS/Neil Davidson
Plans announced to create a grassroots Canadian rugby league co-op

Plans announced to create a grassroots Canadian rugby league co-op

Ottawa Senators left wing Brady Tkachuk (7) and centre Chris Tierney (71) get sandwiched between Flames defencemen Rasmus Andersson (4) and Juuso Valimaki (6) during second-period NHL action in Ottawa on Monday, March 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Batherson scores twice for Ottawa Senators in 5-1 win over Calgary Flames

Batherson scores twice for Ottawa Senators in 5-1 win over Calgary Flames

Skiers may be safe from COVID-19, but not those working to keep slopes open: experts

Skiers may be safe from COVID-19, but not those working to keep slopes open: experts

Armas likes what he sees in Toronto FC camp but there are still issues to resolve

Armas likes what he sees in Toronto FC camp but there are still issues to resolve

Team Canada's Jocelyne Larocque celebrates her goal past the U.S.A. with goaltender Embrace Maschmeyer during first period of Women's Rivalry Series hockey action in Vancouver on February 5, 2020. The Canadian women's hockey team opened a camp Monday in Halifax, which is co-hosting the upcoming world championship. Hockey Canada invited 35 players to participate in the seven-day camp closed to the public and media at Scotiabank Centre. The women are training under restrictions because of the COVID-19 pandemic, including a limit of 25 players on the ice at one time. "They will continue to follow strict COVID-19 testing as per team health and safety protocols that have been detailed and approved by Nova Scotia Public Health," Hockey Canada said Monday in a statement. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Canadian women’s hockey team preparing for possible May world championship

Canadian women’s hockey team preparing for possible May world championship

Most Read