President Barack Obama on Wednesday tapped federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland, who was raised in north suburban Lincolnwood, for the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

Republicans have vowed to block Obama’s nominee. But the pick of a judge with Illinois ties may put pressure on Sen. Mark Kirk R-Ill., in a tough re-election fight – and who already has bucked his GOP Senate colleagues by saying Obama has a right to a nominee and that person deserves a Senate hearing.

Sen. Dick Durbin D-Ill., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee was at the White House for the announcement, in the Rose Garden, as were Democratic U.S. Reps. Jan Schakowsky (whose congressional district includes Lincolnwood) and Robin Kelly.

CEREMONY: Transcript of what Obama, Garland said in Rose Garden announcement

At that Rose Garden ceremony, Obama praised Garland’s “sterling record as a prosecutor” and, specifically, his work after the Oklahoma City terrorist bombing in 1995.

“In the aftermath of that act of terror, when 168 people, many of them small children, were murdered, Merrick had one evening to say goodbye to his own young daughters before he boarded a plane to Oklahoma City. And he would remain there for weeks. He worked side-by-side with first responders, rescue workers, local and federal law enforcement. He led the investigation and supervised the prosecution that brought Timothy McVeigh to justice,” Obama said.

Garland, 63, was born in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood with his family moving to Lincolnwood when he was a youth. He is a 1970 graduate of Niles West High School in Skokie.

The future judge was the “smartest person I’ve ever known,” said Dave Mann, who graduated from Niles West with Garland in 1970 and remains friends with him. “I saw this coming since 1963 when he was 11 years old. … The main thing is, he never forgot where he came from. He’s still grounded, came from a good family, you will not run into a better person. “

Garland’s late father Cyril, who died on Nov. 25, 2000 in Evanston Hospital, founded Garland Advertising and ran it out of the family home. Shirley, his mother, was director of volunteer services at the Council for Jewish Elderly.

When Merrick Garland was born, his parents lived near 79th Street and Jeffrey Avenue, just west of what is now Rainbow Beach Park. His father, born in Council Bluffs, Iowa on Dec. 10, 1915, was a self-employed salesman at the time, according to Cook County birth and death records.

After Niles West, Garland went on to pick up undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard.

Garland has been a contender for a top court seat before, getting to the final rounds in 2010, eventually loosing out to Elena Kagan.

Merrick Garland (left) with Doug Mann at their Niles West High School 40th reunion of the class of 1970. | Photo courtesy of Doug Mann

Merrick Garland (left) with Doug Mann at their Niles West High School 40th reunion of the class of 1970. | Photo courtesy of Doug Mann

“I told him 4 years ago when he got passed over, you’re going to get your spot, be ready,” Mann, his former classmate, said. “He never should have been passed over to begin with. … Now if he gets passed over by the Senate because of this political thing it will be a huge mistake.”

Garland now is chief judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, generally seen as the second-highest court in the land, and a natural stepping-stone to the Supreme Court.

“On a circuit court known for strong-minded judges on both ends of the spectrum, Judge Garland has earned a track record of building consensus as a thoughtful, fair-minded judge who follows the law,” Obama said. “He’s shown a rare ability to bring together odd couples, assemble unlikely coalitions, persuade colleagues with wide-ranging judicial philosophies to sign on to his opinions.”

Garland was valedictorian of his class at Niles West, and spoke at his graduation — a day that prompted another story Obama – and Mann, his former classmate – both told about the nominee.

A student who spoke before Garland at commencement “unleashed a fiery critique of the Vietnam War. Fearing the controversy that might result, several parents decided to unplug the sound system, and the rest of the student’s speech was muffled,” Obama said.

Garland “didn’t necessarily agree with the tone of his classmate’s remarks, nor his choice of topic,” Obama said, but he was nonetheless inspired, and “tossed aside his prepared remarks and delivered instead, on the spot, a passionate, impromptu defense of our First Amendment rights.”

Contributing: Mitch Dudek, Alice Keefe

Merrick Garland at Niles West HS

President Barack Obama shakes hands with Judge Merrick B. Garland in the Rose Garden at the White House Wednesday after nominating him to the U.S. Supreme Court. | Mark Wilson/Getty Images

President Barack Obama shakes hands with Judge Merrick B. Garland in the Rose Garden at the White House Wednesday after nominating him to the U.S. Supreme Court. | Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Below, background on Garland and his biography, from a White House official…
“In a Rose Garden ceremony later today at the White House, President Obama will announce his intent to nominate Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court of the United States. Merrick Garland, the Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, has more federal judicial experience than any other Supreme Court nominee in history. No one is better suited to immediately serve on the Supreme Court.

“Throughout his career, Chief Judge Garland has shown a rare ability to bring people together and has earned the respect of everyone he has worked with. Chief Justice John Roberts, Garland’s colleague on the D.C. Circuit, once said that “anytime Judge Garland disagrees, you know you’re in a difficult area.” In 2010, as the Senate was beginning the process of confirming a successor to Justice John Paul Stevens, Senator Orrin Hatch said he saw Chief Judge Garland as “a consensus nominee” for the Supreme Court, adding “I have no doubts that Garland would get a lot of [Senate] votes.  And I will do my best to help him get them.”

“Chief Judge Garland was confirmed to the D.C. Circuit 76-23, with majority support from both Republicans and Democrats. He has served for 19 years on that court – often considered the most important appellate court in the nation. For over 3 years, he has been the Chief Judge of the D.C. Circuit, continuing to distinguish himself as one of the most impressive judges in the country. He has cultivated a reputation as a brilliant, meticulous judge with a knack for building consensus, playing it straight, and deciding every case based on what the law requires. As he has said, “The role of the court is to apply the law to the facts of the case before it—not to legislate, not to arrogate to itself the executive power, not to hand down advisory opinions on the issues of the day.”

“Chief Judge Garland was born and raised in Illinois, by a mother who served as a community volunteer and a father who ran a small business out of the family home. His grandparents immigrated to the United States to escape persecution and find a better life.  He won scholarships to attend Harvard University – where he graduated summa cum laude – and Harvard Law School, paying his way by taking a summer job as a shoe store stock clerk, selling his comic book collection and counseling undergraduates.

“Chief Judge Garland began his career as a clerk for legendary Second Circuit Judge Henry Friendly and then Supreme Court Justice William Brennan. In just four years, Chief Judge Garland became a partner at a prominent law firm, with a practice focused on litigation and pro bono representation of disadvantaged Americans.

“Throughout his career, Chief Judge Garland has demonstrated a commitment to putting his country first. In 1989, shortly after becoming a partner in private practice, Chief Judge Garland accepted a significant pay cut to became a federal prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for D.C. under the Administration of President George H.W. Bush, where he investigated and prosecuted cases involving public corruption, drug trafficking and fraud. U.S. Attorney Jay Stephens, a Republican appointee, later described Garland’s service to that office as marked “by dedication, sound judgment, excellent legal ability, a balanced temperament, and the highest ethical and professional standards.”

“He later was selected as the Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division at the Department of Justice, and then as Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General. In these roles, he oversaw some of the most important federal criminal cases brought by the Department.

“Chief Judge Garland’s work on the Oklahoma City bombing case was particularly notable and inspiring. In the wake of the bombing, he traveled to Oklahoma to oversee the case, and in the ensuing months coordinated every aspect of the government’s response – working with federal agents, rescue workers, local officials, and others to bring the perpetrators to justice. He also kept in close touch with victims and their families throughout the case, and for several years afterwards as well. Later, former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating, a Republican, wrote that, during his work on the Oklahoma City bombing case, Chief Judge Garland “distinguished himself in a situation where he had to lead a highly complicated investigation and make quick decisions during critical times.”

“Chief Judge Garland has also devoted himself to being a mentor and teacher.  He remains close with his law clerks throughout their careers, encouraging them to pursue public service and advising them on how best to do so. In addition, for almost twenty years, he has tutored second, third, and fourth grade students in Northeast DC in reading and math. Chief Judge Garland and his wife of nearly thirty years, Lynn, have two daughters, Becky and Jessie. The family enjoys skiing, hiking and canoeing, and together they have visited many of America’s national parks.

ALSO FROM THE WHITE HOUSE, In addition, for your reference:

Chief Judge Garland’s was confirmed in 1997 with majority support from both parties, including the support of seven current Republican Senators: Senator Coats, Senator Cochran, Senator Collins, Senator Hatch, Senator Inhofe, Senator McCain, and Senator Roberts.