Obama Picks Merrick Garland For Supreme Court Seat

Mar 16, 2016
Originally published on March 16, 2016 5:56 pm
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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

President Obama has chosen his nominee to fill the seat left vacant with the death of Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. The president will name his nominee in the White House Rose Garden at 11 a.m. Eastern Time, which is just a little bit less than an hour from now. But we know the name thanks to NPR's legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg, who broke the news minutes ago. She's with us now with the studio.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Hi Renee.

MONTAGNE: Hi. Who is it? Tell us who it is.

TOTENBERG: It's Chief Judge Merrick Garland of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. He's 63 years old. He was a runner-up to - he's been a runner-up in past nominations - the Sotomayor nomination his name was prominent and again in the Kagan nomination. He's - to be blunt about it- the only white male on the finalist list. He is a beloved figure on the court of appeals by Republicans and Democrats alike. And I'm told that the Republicans in the Senate actually sent some sort of a back-channel message to the White House that if it were Garland that they would confirm him if the Democrats prevail in the presidential election, that they would confirm him in the lame-duck session and that the whole caucus would be on board, that it wouldn't be a fight. Now, you know, this is all - I have good sources for this, but, you know, from somebody's lips to God's ears so to speak, who knows?

MONTAGNE: Yeah, well, before - I'd like to hear a little bit more about Merrick Garland. But let me just briefly ask you what's the reasoning in that? The lame-duck session basically says to the Republicans if it is a Democratic president's been elected, you'd rather have this than the next thing?

TOTENBERG: That he's a moderate liberal, he has a law-enforcement background. He has a lot of friends in the Republican community as well as the Democratic community, among the Republicans on his court. He is the chief judge. And chief judges are not always beloved, but he is really beloved. And so I think that their thought would be better him - and he's 63 years old and how long will he serve? His father, by the way, is 90. (Laughter) How long will he serve? That's better than whoever Hillary Clinton - assuming it's Hillary Clinton - would name or Bernie Sanders more so.

MONTAGNE: So 63 - yeah, that is young. (Laughter) His father lived to be 90. So just tell us a little more about him. I presume he's a moderate if he's a - functionally the Republican choice as you understand.

TOTENBERG: He - of the moderate liberals who were on the final list, he's the one they know best and like best. You know, they can see a 19-year record. And it's a liberal record, but it's also a record that is pro-law enforcement.

MONTAGNE: So this is - actually would be a great turnaround on the part of the Republicans. Let's take a listen just one more time to something most of us have heard already, but U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell putting their - the level of rejection that they've been talking about to a very strong height.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN CORNYN: We believe it's not an unreasonable position to take to say the American people in the course of this presidential election - that their voice should be heard in this process, particularly where the balance of power on the Supreme Court is going to be determined perhaps for the next 25 or 30 years.

MONTAGNE: OK, sorry, that turned out to be John Cornyn. But still, you get the idea that they're going to back off on that or they're going to go ahead in the next...

TOTENBERG: No. You know, as far - this is where it gets dicey. They say no, no, no, not until after the election. The American people have the right to make the choice. But you can say that the American people have made a choice and now we're going to confirm somebody, or you may get stuck in the mud and have to start to have hearings. I mean, that's - all of that is conceivable.

MONTAGNE: OK, more to come all through the morning. NPR's legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.