Nominating a Supreme Court Justice is one of the most consequential roles our Constitution entrusts to any president. It’s a moment that demands us to rise above short-term politics in order to maintain the integrity of our democratic institutions. Our Supreme Court justices are the final arbiters of American law. They safeguard our rights and freedoms, ensuring that our system is one of laws, not of men, and that we continue to be governed by our Constitution and the laws passed by Congress.
This is a duty I take very seriously. That’s why, last week, I nominated Chief Judge Merrick Garland to the Court. Judge Garland is not simply one of our most brilliant legal minds, but a man renowned on both sides of the aisle for his character, his decency, his ability to build consensus, and his fidelity to the law. So I’d like to tell you a little bit more about Judge Garland, and why it’s so important that his nomination is treated with the seriousness it deserves.
Judge Garland grew up in my hometown of Chicago. His mom served as a community volunteer. His dad ran a small business out of their basement. And they impressed upon him the importance of working hard, dealing fairly, and serving his community.
As a young lawyer, Judge Garland could have comfortably salted away his years as a partner at a lucrative private firm. Instead, he chose public service, taking a job as a low-level prosecutor in the George H.W. Bush Administration. Eventually, he oversaw the federal response to the Oklahoma City bombing, taking great care to bring justice for an unspeakable crime. He worked side-by-side with law enforcement. He reached out to victims and their families. Everywhere he went, he carried with him in his briefcase the program from the memorial service with each of the victims’ names inside.
For the last 19 years, Judge Garland has served on what’s often known as the second highest court in the land – the D.C. Circuit Court – including the last three as Chief Judge. He’s admired for his courtesy, his devotion to family, and that civic-minded spirit he learned from his parents. He’s even served as a tutor for young students at a local D.C. elementary school for the past 18 years.
On the bench, Judge Garland has shown an understanding that justice isn’t simply abstract legal theory; it affects people’s daily lives. So he knows that our courts must preserve liberty, and that the powerful and the powerless deserve equal justice under the law. And in his work, he is widely regarded for his excellence, modesty, even-handedness and ability to bring people together. That’s why I believe Judge Garland is exactly the kind of judge we need on the Supreme Court.
For a long time, some Republicans have said as much themselves. During my time as president, one name has come up more than any other in discussions about potential justices, from Democrats and Republicans alike — Merrick Garland. And back in the 1990s, when he was first nominated to serve on the federal bench, Sen. Orrin Hatch, the Republican head of the Judiciary Committee said, “In all honesty, I would like to see one person come to this floor and say one reason why Merrick Garland does not deserve this position.”
I understand that we’re in the midst of an especially volatile political season. But at a time when our politics are so polarized, we should treat a process of this magnitude — the appointment of a Supreme Court justice — with the seriousness it deserves.
I’ve done my constitutional duty. Now it’s up to each senator to fulfill his or hers. All I’m asking is simply for the Senate to act fairly. To act with the level-headedness and foresight required in our exercise in self-government. And to give Judge Garland — by all accounts an outstanding individual; someone with more experience on the federal bench than any Supreme Court nominee in history — the respect he has earned. Give him a hearing. Give him a vote.
To deny it would indicate a process for nominating and confirming judges that is beyond repair. It would make it increasingly impossible for any president, Republican or Democrat, to carry out their constitutional function. To go down that path would jeopardize our system of justice, hurt our democracy, and betray the vision of our founding.
We can’t go down that road. So I’m asking people here in Illinois to make your voices heard. Let your senators know how important this is. Tell them that our courts should be above politics, not an extension of politics. Because this is bigger than a few news cycles, or even a single election. It’s about the integrity of our system of justice. It’s a question of whether or not we’ll live up to the responsibilities our founders entrusted to us. That’s been the duty of Americans for more than two centuries. And now it’s up to us to carry forward that story for our time.
President Barack Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland on March 16 to fill the Supreme Court seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who died on Feb. 13.
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