WASHINGTON • United States President Barack Obama has nominated appellate court judge Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy left by the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the White House confirmed, emphasising his readiness for the job and history of support from Republicans and Democrats.
"No one is better suited to immediately serve on the Supreme Court," a White House official said yesterday. "Chief Justice John Roberts... once said that 'any time Judge Garland disagrees, you know you're in a difficult area'," the official added.
New York Senator Chuck Schumer, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, confirmed the decision, saying: "It's an excellent choice, a bipartisan choice. If the Republicans can't support him, who could they support?"
Mr Obama, before announcing his nominee yesterday, called on senators to "do their jobs" and quickly consider confirmation of a candidate he said is "eminently qualified" to join the nation's highest court.
The President earlier said in an e-mail statement that Judge Garland has an "unquestionable mastery of law" and "unimpeachable credentials". He asked for a fair hearing and an up-or-down vote in the Senate. "That is what the Constitution dictates, and that's what the American people expect and deserve," he added.
Judge Garland, 63, is chief judge of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The judge, who in the past has earned praise from lawmakers from both the Democratic and Republican parties, was named to his current job by then President Bill Clinton in 1997. Before that, he served in the Justice Department. Mr Obama also considered him for two previous Supreme Court vacancies.
Republicans and their allies have geared up to fight Mr Obama's nominee.
Mr Obama may have been looking for a nominee who could convince the Republicans to change course. Judge Garland could fit that bill with a moderate record, background as a prosecutor and history of drawing Republican support. When the judge was considered for a High Court vacancy in 2010, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah said he would be "terrific" and could be confirmed "virtually unanimously".
The nominee will be the first one by Mr Obama with the potential to shift the court to a Democratic-nominated majority.
Mr Obama has already named two justices to the Supreme Court: Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who at 55 became the first Hispanic justice in 2009, and Justice Elena Kagan, who was 50 when she became the fourth woman to ever serve on the court in 2010.
Mr Obama had also considered federal appellate judges Sri Srinivasan and Paul Watford, said a person familiar with the matter.