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Obama draws battle lines over court seat with Garland pick

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama formally announced his nomination of federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court Wednesday morning.

Garland, a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, took to the podium in the Rose Garden, calling the nomination “the greatest honor of my life other than Lynn agreeing to marry me 28 years ago.”

He was visibly emotional as he accepted the nomination with his family watching.

In announcing the nomination, Obama called the 63-year-old “a serious man and an exemplary judge.”

“People respect the way he treats others,” the president said.

Garland is the chief justice 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.

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Before becoming a judge in 1997, Garland served in the Justice Department as principal associate deputy attorney general and deputy assistant attorney general in the criminal division. He was a federal prosecutor in the District of Columbia from 1989 to 1992 and a partner in the law firm of Arnold & Porter from 1985 to 1989 and from 1992 to 1993. Garland supervised Justice Department investigations into the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.

Obama touched on the Oklahoma City bombing and said Garland ensured everything was done by the book so that Timothy McVeigh, who was executed in 2001 for the bombing, would not be set free on a technicality.

Garland described himself as a man and jurist committed to the Constitution.

“People must be confident a judge’s decision is based on the law, and only the law,” he said.

The pick sets up a showdown with Senate Republicans who have told the White House not to bother filling the vacancy in an election year, a potential battle Obama touched on during his announcement.

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Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said the people must have a voice in November on filling the vacancy.

The Kentucky Republican made it clear in a speech on the Senate floor that the Republican-led body will not consider Garland.

Obama said in his announcement the Supreme Court is supposed to be above politics, repeating his request that Senate Republicans give his nominee a hearing and an up-or-down vote.

“The reputation of the Supreme Court will inevitably suffer. Faith in our justice system will inevitably suffer. Our democracy will ultimately suffer as well,” the president said, before adding that he hopes senators will take an upcoming break to seriously consider the choice.

“I hope they are fair. That’s all. I hope they are fair.”

The Senate must confirm any nominee, and GOP leaders want to leave the choice to the next president, denying Obama a chance to alter the ideological balance of the court before he leaves office next January. Republicans contend that a confirmation fight in an election year would be too politicized.

Charles Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he isn’t swayed by Garland’s nomination.

The Republican said in a statement “a lifetime appointment that could dramatically impact individual freedoms and change the direction of the court for at least a generation is too important to get bogged down in politics.”

Hillary Clinton, who served as secretary of state in the Obama administration and is currently running for president, said it is up to the senators to perform their Constitutional duty “they swore to undertake.”

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The confirmation of a justice “should not be an exercise in political brinkmanship and partisan posturing,” she said.

Clinton called it a “serious obligation” that does not depend “on the party affiliation of a sitting president, nor does the Constitution make an exception to that duty in an election year.”

Senate minority leader Harry Reid spoke in the Senate chamber about the looming fight less than an hour before the official announcement, saying he hoped the senators will “do their constitutional duty” and hold a hearing and a vote on Obama’s nominee.

In his email to supporters before announcing Garland, Obama said his nominee will be ‘‘eminently qualified’’ to sit on the nation’s highest court. He said the nominee would understand the limits of the judiciary’s role and ‘‘grasps the way it affects the daily reality of people’s lives in a big, complicated democracy, and in rapidly changing times.’’

Obama said the White House had ‘‘reached out to every member of the Senate, who each have a responsibility to do their job and take this nomination just as seriously.’’

Watch: White House video on Garland

Updates from @SCOTUSnom


Nicole Hernandez can be reached at nicole.hernandez@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @NRHSJax.