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Chicago native Merrick Garland is Supreme Court pick

The U.S. Supreme Court has struck down two congressional districts in North Carolina, saying race played too large a role in how their boundaries were set. | Associated Press file photo

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will nominate federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned. The pick sets up a confrontation with Republicans who say they will refuse to consider his nomination in an election year.

Garland is the chief judge 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.

He was born in Chicago and grew up in Lincolnwood. His father, Cyril Garland, ran a business, Garland Advertising, in Chicago. His mother, Shirley Garland, was director of volunteer services for the Council for Jewish Elderly.

He would replace conservative, Justice Antonin Scalia, who died unexpectedly last month, leaving behind a bitter election-year fight over the future of the court.

LYNN SWEET: Read more about Supreme Court nominee

Garland was confirmed to the D.C. Circuit in 1997 with backing from a majority in both parties, including seven current Republicans senators.

Garland, 63, is a graduate of Niles West High School in Skokie, Harvard College and Harvard Law School.

The White House has stressed that the nominee will have “impeccable” credentials, suggesting that person will have a record so sterling Obama administration officials feel the choice would shame GOP senators into backing down.

Garland appears to fit that approach. Garland, a white 63-year-old with an Ivy League, East Coast background, has a reputation as a judicial moderate with broad respect in Washington and a resume that makes him look like a lot of the high court’s current members.

Five other current justices, as well as Scalia, also came from Harvard.

Garland has been in this position before. The last time a seat opened up on the Supreme Court, in 2010, he was widely considered a top candidate for the job and interviewed with Obama. The slot ultimately went to Justice Elena Kagan.

As a young lawyer, Garland clerked for two appointees of Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower: the liberal U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan Jr. and Judge Henry J. Friendly, for whom Chief Justice John Roberts also clerked.

Before becoming a judge himself, Garland was a prosecutor and supervised Justice Department investigations into the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.

His background made him popular even with Republicans when he was nominated to the D.C. Circuit by President Bill Clinton in 1995, but the full Senate didn’t initially act on his nomination. The issue wasn’t Garland, Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley said at the time, but whether the court needed another judge at all. Grassley is now the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which would oversee any hearings on a nominee.

Garland ultimately was confirmed to the D.C. Circuit on a vote of 76-23 in 1997. Thirty-two Republicans voted in favor of his nomination, including seven who are still members of the Senate.

Despite his background, there are two possible stumbling blocks to his nomination: his age and the fact he is a white male. Most of the court’s current members were nominated and confirmed while in their 50s. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the oldest at confirmation, at 60.

Presidents generally like to choose nominees younger than Garland is to ensure they will serve for a long time. Still, Justice Lewis Powell was 64 when nominated to the court in 1971, so Garland’s nomination wouldn’t be unprecedented.

Another possible factor: Garland’s religion — he is Jewish — also wouldn’t add to the diversity of the court. Three of its current members are Jewish, and five are Catholic.

Obama planned to introduce his pick at 11 a.m. in the White House Rose Garden.

“I’ve made my decision,” Obama said in an email to supporters.

In his email, Obama did not identify his choice to replace the Scalia on the nine-member court. But the president said he had devoted a “considerable amount of time and deliberation to this decision” and consulted with outside experts and groups.

Merrick B. Garland is chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit. | AP file photo
Merrick B. Garland is chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit. | AP file photo

The Associated Press has reported that Obama had narrowed the list to three appeals court judges: Merrick Garland, the chief judge of the appeals courts in Washington, D.C.; Sri Srinivasan, a judge on that court; and Paul Watford of the appeals courts based in San Francisco.

“In putting forward a nominee today, I am fulfilling my constitutional duty. I’m doing my job,” Obama wrote. “I hope that our senators will do their jobs, and move quickly to consider my nominee.”

That will be a hard sell because Republicans control the Senate, which 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.

Ahead of Obama’s announcement, the Republican Party set up a task force that will orchestrate attack ads, petitions and media outreach. The aim is to bolster Senate Republicans’ strategy of denying consideration of Obama’s nominee. The party’s chairman, Reince Priebus, described it as the GOP’s most comprehensive judicial response effort ever.

On the other side, Obama allies have been drafted to run a Democratic effort that will involve liberal groups that hope an Obama nominee could pull the high court’s ideological balance to the left. The effort would target states where activists believe Republicans will feel political heat for opposing hearings once Obama announced his nominee.

In his email, 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.”

The president told supporters his nominee “deserves a fair hearing, and an up-or-down vote.”

Contributing: Lynn Sweet

Merrick Garland at Niles West HS