Federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland is President Obama's pick to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, NPR has learned.
Citing a source close to the process, NPR's Nina Totenberg says Obama chose Garland, 63, over two other federal judges who were also seen as contenders for Scalia's seat.
Obama is slated to make the announcement official at 11 a.m. ET, speaking from the Rose Garden at the White House.
"I've made my decision: Today, I will announce the person I believe is eminently qualified to sit on the Supreme Court," Obama said in an email Wednesday morning.
Garland, who is currently the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, is a former prosecutor who's viewed as a moderate. He has also cultivated a reputation for openness and collegiality at the D.C. Circuit, a bench that's sometimes called the second most important in the land.
Before becoming a judge, Garland occupied top posts in the Justice Department, where he oversaw some of the biggest investigations of the Clinton era, including the Oklahoma City bombing, the Unabomber case, and the Atlanta Olympics bombing.
Garland has been a finalist for two other Supreme Court openings during Obama's presidency; he joined the appeals court in 1995, after a long Senate delay and a 76-23 vote.
Garland has won praise from senior Republican figures, including Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch and Chief Justice John Roberts.
The president's move to fill the seat left vacant by Scalia, who died just over one month ago, comes as conservative Republicans have pledged to block any attempt to fill the spot before a new president is sworn in next January.
Garland's nomination opens a new chapter in what could become an epic and bruising fight over both the ideological tilt of the nation's highest court and President Obama's legacy.
This morning, Obama called on the Senate to hold a fair confirmation hearing of his nominee, and to hold an up-or-down vote.
Announcing his plan to fill the vacancy, Obama said, "it is both my constitutional duty to nominate a Justice and one of the most important decisions that I — or any president — will make."
Here's how NPR's Nina Totenberg described the candidates, on today's Morning Edition:
Garland is "formerly a prosecutor; he ran the Oklahoma City bombing investigation; he ran the Unabomber investigation. ... The con is that because he has all that experience, he's 63 years old, and a lot of Democrats would like somebody younger than that, who presumably would be there longer than that."
Srinivasan is "widely respected, has worked in both Republican and Democratic administrations. He doesn't have a long Court of Appeals record — but that's not enough to flyspeck very carefully."
Watford "has been on the 9th Circuit since the first Obama administration; there were 34 Republican votes against him, but there were Republican votes for him. If he doesn't make it this time, I guarantee you his name will be in the mix next time."
Nina notes that when the Senate confirmed Srinivasan to the federal bench in 2013, it did so by a vote of 97-0. That standing, and his potential to become both the first South Asian and the first Hindu on the high court, have led many to see Srinivasan as the most likely candidate.
The nominee is likely to find a contentious reception in the Senate — but Nina says the outcome of the national election could change that.
Referring to both Garland and Srinivasan, Nina says that if current Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton wins in November, "the likelihood is that the Republicans would go ahead and confirm either one of these two men, on the theory that anybody Hillary Clinton would nominate would be more liberal."
Before making his decision, Obama said, he consulted with legal experts across the political spectrum. And he listed three qualities he sought in a potential Supreme Court justice:
▪ An "independent mind, unimpeachable credentials, and an unquestionable mastery of law."
▪ A recognition of "the limits of the judiciary's role."
▪ Awareness "that justice is not about abstract legal theory, nor some footnote in a dusty casebook."
After that last point, Obama said he wanted a candidate who had experienced life outside academic or justice settings, so they would understand the way the law "affects the daily reality of people's lives in a big, complicated democracy, and in rapidly changing times."
"I am fulfilling my constitutional duty," Obama said at the close of his message. "I'm doing my job. I hope that our Senators will do their jobs, and move quickly to consider my nominee."
Ahead of Wednesday's announcement, the White House noted that the last time the Senate refused to vote on a president's Supreme Court nominee was in 1875 — and that "one-third of all previous U.S. presidents have had a nominee confirmed to the Supreme Court in an election year."