President Obama will nominate federal judge Merrick Garland to succeed Justice Antonin Scalia, setting up a major election-year confirmation fight, NBC News confirmed Wednesday morning. [...] Having nominated two women to the Supreme Court, including the first Latina to serve, the first black president has opted for a 63-year-old white man with a moderate reputation.
The official announcement won't come for a few minutes, but as MSNBC's Irin Carmon reported, President Obama has made his choice to fill the Supreme Court's vacancy.
[Update: It's now official; Garland is the choice.]
ThinkProgress' Ian Millhiser, who published a helpful overview on Garland this morning, noted that Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), just last week, told a far-right website, "[Obama] could easily name Merrick Garland, who is a fine man ... [but] he probably won't do that because this appointment is about the election. So I'm pretty sure he'll name someone the [liberal Democratic base] wants."
Millhiser added that Obama evidently "plans to call Hatch's bluff."
Let's be clear about the most basic and obvious of details: Merrick Garland is an eminently qualified and respected jurist. He's the chief judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, a former federal prosecutor, and a former Supreme Court clerk with an impeccable background. If there were a dictionary entry for "Generic, Mainstream Supreme Court Nominee for a Democratic President," Garland's picture would be on the page.
Under normal political circumstances, Garland is the kind of jurist who'd be confirmed easily with overwhelming Senate support. Given the radicalization of the Republican Party, however, these are not normal political circumstances.
I tend to see Garland as more than just a high court nominee -- he's also represents a presidential dare. "You'll refuse to consider any nominee?" Obama seems to be effectively telling the Senate Republican majority. "Fine. I'm sending a moderate, 63-year-old white guy. How committed are you, exactly, to this blockade?"
And to this extent, Garland will serve as an interesting test. Within minutes of Antonin Scalia's passing, GOP senators declared their refusal to consider any White House nominee, regardless of merit or any other consideration. In the subsequent weeks, Republican senator said they would not meet with Obama's choice; no confirmation hearing would be scheduled; no floor vote would be considered. Full stop.
This morning's announcement creates a test of this unprecedented obstructionist gambit.
Senate Republicans probably aren't interested in my advice, but they'd be insane to reject Garland. As we discussed last week, with Donald Trump likely to win the GOP presidential nomination, Republican senators have to realize that Hillary Clinton would nominate someone younger and more liberal for the Supreme Court in 2017. Just how confident is the GOP in Trump's chances?
In effect, Obama choosing Garland represents a compromise -- with the president meeting the Senate majority half-way with arm outstretched. How eager will Republicans be to slap it away, even against their own interests?