Obama to push for Supreme Court hearings at U. Chicago next week

President Obama will argue for a confirmation hearing for nominee Judge Merrick Garland. Congressional foot-dragging over a court nominee is unusual but not unexpected. 

J. Scott Applewhite/ AP Photo/ File
Judge Merrick Garland, President Obama's nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the US Supreme Court, walks by press on Capitol Hill in this March 29, 2016 photo. Mr. Obama will push his nomination during a visit to the University of Chicago Law School next week.

President Obama will return to law school next week to discuss the integrity of the Supreme Court, outlining his argument for the Senate to consider Judge Merrick Garland's nomination to the Supreme Court after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. 

As Supreme Court nominee arranges to meet with Republican Senators, Mr. Obama has scheduled a town hall conversation with students and faculty at the University of Chicago Law School next Thursday, where he taught constitutional law before launching his political career.  

Judge Garland and Obama are both graduates of Harvard Law School. Garland, currently the chief judge of the US Court of Appeals in D.C., grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. 

The president intends to use the conversation with law students to emphasize the importance of granting Garland a confirmation hearing, according to White House officials.

Obama will present "the case directly to law students," Rachel Racusen, White House strategic communications adviser, told the Chicago Sun-Times, "for a conversation focused on the importance of the courts, the integrity of the courts and in that context talk about the importance of Judge Garland’s nomination."

Controversy has reigned over the appointment of former Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia’s replacement since Scalia’s death in mid-February. Conservative members of Congress have sworn that they will not grant an Obama nominee a confirmation hearing during the president’s final year in office.

Yet two Republican senators will meet with Garland next week, in a move the White House hopes could open the door to his consideration. He will speak with Sens. Suzanne Collins (R) of Maine and John Boozman (R) of Arkansas on Tuesday. 

Since his initial announcement of Garland’s nomination, Obama has emphasized the nominee’s suitability for the position.

Garland, as Obama told Americans at his nomination, represents the epitome of a measured, balanced man, molded by the American Dream.

Born the grandson of immigrants, and the son of a small-time business owner, Garland worked while attending Harvard University, both for his undergraduate years and during law school.

Professionally, Garland has served as a federal prosecutor and an Appeals Court justice, building a reputation "as one of America's sharpest legal minds," Obama said when he announced the nomination after weeks of deliberation. Garland "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."

While the confirmation process for Supreme Court nominees has been fraught for centuries, candidates are generally granted confirmation hearings within a reasonable amount of time. Obama’s last two nominees, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, were confirmed well within five months of nomination. Justice Sotomayor was confirmed in August 2009, after being nominated in June of the same year. Justice Kagan was confirmed in August 2010, after being nominated in May.

This foot-dragging by the opposition may seem unusual but it is not unheard of. Arguably the most influential Supreme Court justice in United States history, Justice John Marshall, was also nominated towards the end of President John Adams' administration.

Adams' successor, Thomas Jefferson, and John Marshall had wildly different political views: Jefferson was a states-rights Republican; Marshall, a Federalist. Just weeks before Jefferson was elected into office, the Senate confirmed Marshall’s appointment to the court, where he went on to rule in several important cases that granted greater power to the Federal government.

With concerns about a liberal justice and the balance of the Supreme Court, Senate Republicans are clearly concerned about having another Marshall on their hands, or at least a liberal justice that could swing the current court's 4-to-4 split in favor of the Democrats.

Obama plans to use the town hall event in Chicago to convince young people (and perhaps, lawmakers) that it is more important to preserve the integrity of the courts than the legal balance lawmakers may currently prefer.

"The president will continue to make the case for why Judge Garland – and the American people – deserve for the Senate to fulfill its constitutional responsibility and give this eminently qualified nominee a fair hearing and an up-or-down vote," a White House official told the Chicago Tribune. 

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