Obama nominates centrist judge Merrick Garland to Supreme Court

Federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland, right,  stands with President Barack Obama as he is introduced as Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court during an announcement in the Rose Garden of the White House, in Washington, Wednesday, March 16, 2016.

Federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland, right, stands with President Barack Obama as he is introduced as Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court during an announcement in the Rose Garden of the White House, in Washington, Wednesday, March 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama said Wednesday he would nominate appeals court judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, challenging Republicans to reject a long-time jurist and former prosecutor known he called “one of America’s sharpest legal minds.”

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 Supreme Court justices.

He would replace conservative, Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last month, leaving behind a bitter election-year fight over the future of the court.

Obama announced choice at a ceremony in the Rose Garden, with Democratic Senate leaders and allies looking on.

He held up Merrick as diligent public servant, highlighting his work leading the investigation into the Oklahoma City bombing. He quoted past praise for Garland from Chief Justice John Roberts and Sen. Orrin Hatch. And he said Garland’s talent for bringing together “odd couples” made him a consensus candidate best poised to become an immediate force on the nation’s highest court.

Garland is known for his “decency, modesty integrity, even-handedness and excellence,” he said.

Obama noted Garland was confirmed to the D.C. Circuit in 1997 with backing from a majority in both parties, including seven current Republicans senators.

Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Democratic leader called Garland’s section, “a bipartisan choice.”

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who spoke to Obama Wednesday morning, said in brief remarks on the Senate floor that Republicans must act on the president’s choice. “He’s doing his job this morning, they should do theirs,” said the Nevada Democrat.

If confirmed, Garland would be expected to align with the more liberal members, but he is not viewed as down-the-line liberal. Particularly on criminal defense and national security cases, he’s earned a reputation as centrist, and one of the few Democratic-appointed judges Republicans might have a fast-tracked to confirmation — under other circumstances.

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