Congressional sources name Merrick Garland as Obama's Supreme Court pick

President Obama says he will announce his Supreme Court nominee at 11 am Wednesday morning. But with pushback from the Republican-controlled Senate, will any candidates stand a chance?

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
President Obama speaks at the Chief of Missions Conference at the State Department in Washington, Monday. Mr. Obama said Wednesday he will reveal his US Supreme Court nominee to fill the vacancy of the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

[Update 10:15: President Obama will nominate Merrick Garland, congressional sources told the Associated Press.]

President Obama will announce his US Supreme Court nominee Wednesday morning, says a White House statement. 

“Today, I will announce the person whom I believe is eminently qualified to sit on the Supreme Court,” Mr. Obama said in an email. “As president, it is both my constitutional duty to nominate a justice and one of the most important decisions that I – or any president – will make.”

Since Justice Antonin Scalia’s surprising death in early February, speculations have swirled throughout Washington and the greater-United States about whom Obama will nominate. Obama says he is ready to make his nomination, and encourages Americans to tune into his announcement at 11 am Wednesday morning in the Rose Garden. 

The path to today’s nomination has been especially contentious. Without Justice Scalia’s conservative vote, the nine-member Supreme Court is evenly split with four liberals and four conservatives. Thus, Obama’s appointment could swing the Supreme Court to the left for the first time since a series of conservative appointments by former presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush. 

But for a judge to reach the Supreme Court, a candidate must not only be nominated by the president but also confirmed by the Senate. And members of the Republican-controlled Senate have told Obama to not even waste the energy nominating someone – they are banking on a Republican candidate winning the 2016 presidential election, ensuring a conservative SCOTUS candidate.

“In putting forward a nominee today, I am fulfilling my constitutional duty. I’m doing my job,” Obama said in his email. “I hope that our Senators will do their jobs, and move quickly to consider my nominee. That is what the Constitution dictates, and that’s what the American people expect and deserve from their leaders.”

Obama says his candidate deserves serious consideration from the Senate, because he or she passed his three measures of criteria for a Supreme Court justice. He or she should “possess an independent mind, unimpeachable credentials, and an unquestionable mastery of law,” “recognize the limits of the judiciary’s role,” and have “a keen understanding that justice is not about abstract legal theory, nor some footnotes in a dusty casebook.” 

Washington rumors suggest two federal appeals court judges passed Obama’s three-point criteria and are in competition for the nomination: Sri Srinivasan and Merrick Garland. 

Both Judge Srinivasan and Chief Judge Garland serve together on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit – the same appeals court that Scalia served on before his SCOTUS nomination. And while they are both liberal leaning, they also have potential conservative support. 

Srinivasan was confirmed to the Court of Appeals in a 97-0 Senate vote in May 2013. At this time the Senate had a 52-45 Democratic majority, but it is notable that Srinivasan had no opposition, even from Republican Senators. Born in India, Srinivasan would be the first Asian-American on the high court, to which Obama has sought to bring diversity. He also worked as a clerk for previous Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor early in his career, a Republican-appointed moderately-conservative justice and the first female justice on the high court.

Garland, who is currently serving as the chief judge of the Washington appeals court, has a history as a moderate. Since his nomination to the court by President Bill Clinton in 1997, which was then confirmed by a 76-23 Senate vote, he has gained both Democratic and Republican support. 

“Presidents tend to pick nominees younger than Garland, so they can serve for decades and extend a president’s legacy,” explains Reuter’s reporter Julia Edwards. “But Obama may reason that the choice of an older nominee might also entice Senate Republicans into considering Obama’s selection.” 

During his eight-year tenure, Obama has already made two Supreme Court nominations. Sonia Sotomayor who became the first Hispanic justice in 2009, and Elena Kagan who was appointed a year later in 2010. And both of these female justices were in their fifties at the time of their appointment. Garland is in his 60s.

This report contains material from Reuters and The Associated Press.

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