But Senate confirmation of Garland is already in doubt, as Republican leaders have vowed not to even hold hearings on the nominee, believing that the vacancy should be filled after the election by the next president.
Garland, chief judge of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, appeared at a Rose Garden announcement on Wednesday along with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
Obama said it was rare to find someone “who just about everyone not only respects, but genuinely likes.”
“He earned overwhelming bipartisan praise from senators and legal experts alike,” he said. “People respect Merrick’s deep and abiding passion for protecting our most basic Constitutional rights.”
Obama also called Garland a consensus builder, while arguing that the Supreme Court is unique in that it is “supposed to be above politics.”
“This is precisely the time we should play it straight,” he said.
Garland then took to the podium to say a few words.
“This is the greatest honor of my life,” Garland said, fighting back tears. “I know my mother is watching this on television, and crying her eyes out.”
“Fidelity to the constitution and the law has been the cornerstone of my professional life,” he added.
Shortly after Obama and Garland made their remarks. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gave no indication that he would change his position that the process should be left to the next administration.
“The American people may well elect a President who decides to nominate Judge Garland for Senate consideration,” he said. “The next President may also nominate someone very different. Either way, our view is this: Give the people a voice in the filling of this vacancy.”
Democrats already are criticizing Republicans for obstructing the process. “The Senate has almost a fully year to consider and confirm Judge Garland,” Hillary Clinton said in a statement. “It should begin that work immediately by giving Judge Garland a full and fair hearing followed by a vote.”
Garland, 63, was confirmed to the D.C. Circuit in 1997 in a 76-23 vote after a lengthy nomination fight in the Republican controlled Senate. Before that, he was a prosecutor with the Department of Justice, overseeing the Oklahoma City bombing case and the trial of Timothy McVeigh. He became chief judge in 2013.