President Obama’s nominee to the US Supreme Court has strong ties to the Boston area and especially to Harvard University, where he helped pay his tuition bills by working as a shoe store clerk and by selling his comic book collection.
Merrick B. Garland, chief judge for the US Appeals Court for the District of Columbia, has also served as president of Harvard’s Board of Overseers, one of the ruling bodies of the sprawling institution in Cambridge and Boston.
“This is the greatest honor in my life,’’ Garland said at the White House after Obama announced he was choosing the Illinois native to succeed the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the nation’s highest court.
He said that his grandparents immigrated from the “Pale of Settlement” in western Russia in the early 1900s to escape chronic anti-Semitism and build a better life for themselves and their families. They settled in the Midwest before moving to Chicago, where he grew up.
His father, Cyril, ran “the smallest of small businesses’’ from the basement of his family home and impressed on him the “importance of hard work and fair dealing’’ with people, he recalled. He said his mother, who was “crying her eyes out” watching the announcement on television, worked at a volunteer agency and was active in the local PTA.
“I only wish my father were here to see this,’’ Garland said at the White House.
He said his parents instilled in him - and his sisters - “a sense of responsibility to serve the community.’’
Garland has been chief justice of the District of Columbia appellate court since 2013, and was first confirmed to the court in 1997. He graduated from Harvard College in 1974 and Harvard Law School in 1977.
“While in college, Garland worked a summer job as a shoe store stock clerk and sold his comic book collection to help pay his tuition. As a law student, he earned room and board by counseling undergraduates,’’ according to a biography posted by the White House on Thursday.
Obama mentioned Garland’s decision to sell his comic books, describing it as “what is always a painful moment for any young man.”
Garland placed his hand over his heart and smiled gamely amid chuckles from the crowd.
“It’s tough,” Obama added. “Been there.”
Garland, 63, has been married for nearly 30 years to Lynn Garland, and is the father of two daughters, Becky and Jessie, according to the biography. During his White House speech, his voice broke with emotion as he said that his wife’s decision to marry him and the birth of his two daughters were the greatest honor and gifts he had received in his life.
Lynn Garland, according to information her husband supplied to Harvard’s class reports, is the former Lynn Rosenman who herself is a 1982 graduate of Harvard College. She later earned an MBA from MIT’s Sloan School of Management in 1987.
Lynn Garland’s father was a New York State judge and the couple was married on Sept. 19, 1987 at the Harvard Club in New York City, according to their wedding announcement in the New York Times. Their oldest daughter, Rebecca, was born in 1990 and their daughter Jessica was born in 1992.
His younger sister, Heidi, graduated from Harvard College in 1982 and Harvard Law School in 1984, according to his class report.
Garland is a native of Chicago — a fact that Obama emphasized at the announcement — who attended high school there, graduating as cass valedictorian.
Garland was able to attend Harvard with the help of scholarships, according to the biography. “He received his law degree magna cum laude and served on the Harvard Law Review,’’ the biographer read. “As a law student, he earned room and board by counseling undergraduates.’’
During his years at Harvard College, Garland wrote for the Harvard Crimson, the school newspaper, contributing stage reviews, stories about housing issues on campus, and a plan for students to get McDonald’s hamburgers in return for donating blood.
Garland went into private practice and eventually became a partner in the powerhouse law firm of Arnold and Porter in the 1980s. He left to become a federal prosecutor in 1989.
After a brief return to private practice, Garland returned to the US Justice Department in a national leadership position where he played key roles in the investigations into the Oklahoma City bombings and the prosecution of Theodore “Ted” Kaczynski, the so-called Unabomber.
He was nominated by former President Bill Clinton to the judiciary and was confirmed by the Senate as a member of the federal appeals court for the District of Columbia in 1997 on a vote of 76-23.
“In so doing, it made my commitment to public service a lifetime one and ended my peripatetic wanderings between private and public life,’’ he wrote in the 25th anniversary report of the Harvard class of 1974.
Since becoming a judge, he has taught at Yale Law School and at Harvard Law School, where also presided over the Ames Moot Court competitions in 2006 and 2013.