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With Obama Set To Announce Nominee, Speculation About Whom It'll Be


President Obama has just stepped out into the White House Rose Garden with the man he's chosen as his nominee to the Supreme Court by his side. It is federal appeals court Judge Merrick Garland. Joining us in the studio to tell us more is NPR's justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Good morning. So very big news.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Very big news today, Renee. President Obama has named as his third appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court - Merrick Garland. He's currently the chief justice of the second-highest appeals court in the country here in Washington, D.C. He's been on that court since 1995, a reputation as a moderate, a collegial voice, a meticulous legal mind as the White House is saying.

MONTAGNE: Sixty-three years old, a little older than most nominees are.

JOHNSON: A little older than most nominees are, but a man the White House says with a proven track record of winning conservative support in the past. One of his biggest fans - Orrin Hatch - Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch. Earlier in his career, Merrick Garland was a top Justice Department prosecutor. He supervised the big case against Timothy McVeigh in the Oklahoma City bombings, where he won a lot of support from that state's governor, Frank Keating. He's a law-and-order voice, Renee, and clearly in the mainstream of judicial thinking, according to lawyers who have practiced before him.

MONTAGNE: And let's hear a clip from the president's announcement and what he has to say about Merrick Garland.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Of the many powers and responsibilities that the Constitution vests in the presidency, few are more consequential than appointing a Supreme Court justice.

MONTAGNE: So that's President Barack Obama in the Rose Garden, talking about - just basically beginning his announcement of this nominee. Now, you mentioned Orrin Hatch. This would be a key person to have on your side.

JOHNSON: Generally, in a normal political season, it would, Renee. But this is no normal political season. Republican leaders in the Senate, led by Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, have said that this nominee will get no hearing, no vote until the next president takes office in 2017. All 11 Republican members of the Judiciary Committee have committed to that position at this point. The question is now that we have an actual nominee, a man who's considered to be law and order and more or less a judicial moderate, whether the Republicans in the Senate are going to maintain that position.

MONTAGNE: Well, you wonder, too, in just even announcing this nomination earlier in the day by email, the president made several references to the Republican Senate should do its job now that he's done his job nominating - putting in a new name, a nominee.

JOHNSON: That's exactly right, Renee. And moreover, the White House has said that no one has more federal judicial experience in history as a Supreme Court nominee than Merrick Garland, who's sat on the federal appeals court here in D.C. since 1995. So they're trying to make an airtight case that this man deserves consideration from the U.S. Senate.

MONTAGNE: Well, the president is still speaking, but we have another clip of what he said just in the last couple of minutes. And this is about his choice.


OBAMA: I've selected a nominee who is widely recognized not only as one of America's sharpest legal minds but someone who brings to his work a spirit of decency, modesty, integrity, evenhandedness and excellence.

MONTAGNE: You know, there is a question that's been floating out there all along since the Republicans have been basically been putting up a barrier to even - not just holding hearings, to even meeting with any nominee that the president puts forth - and that is why would anybody accept the challenge of what looks like is going to be a very ugly fight?

JOHNSON: Merrick Garland at least once has been a finalist earlier in the Obama administration for a Supreme Court nomination. He's well-known here in Washington and around the country for being sort of a salt-of-the-earth type. And in fact, Renee, the White House says today during summers in college, he worked as a shoe store clerk. And he sold his comic book collection to help pay his tuition at Harvard. This is a man who's now being nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court - pretty hard to turn down.

MONTAGNE: So where to from here?

JOHNSON: Where to from here? We're going to see the Republicans in the Senate try to withstand pressure from Democrats. And of course, Democratic colleagues both in the U.S. Senate and outside in terms of interest groups mounting a full-out public relations assault to try to demonstrate that this nominee, Merrick Garland, deserves consideration from the Senate and the American people at large.

MONTAGNE: Is it a chance that will work?

JOHNSON: Well, I...

MONTAGNE: I mean, what will that actually translate to?

JOHNSON: I think it's going to translate to a lot of television ads and a lot of op-eds and a lot of talk. And whether it works could be determined by where the political campaign stands in October or November of this year.

MONTAGNE: Thanks very much.

JOHNSON: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson on the news that President Obama has announced his nominee for the Supreme Court. He is Judge Merrick Garland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
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