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Obama picks centrist high court nominee; Republicans unmoved

Updated: 2016-03-17 08:59


Some cracks began appearing in McConnell's strategy of completely shutting out the nominee. A handful of Republican senators including Susan Collins of Maine, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Rob Portman of Ohio said they would be willing to meet with Garland.

Collins said the Senate Judiciary Committee should hold confirmation hearings.

Judiciary Committee member Orrin Hatch, whose past support of Garland was cited by Obama, said the pick does not change his view "at this point" that no Obama nominee should be considered.

Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who is in a tough re-election battle, said, "Should Merrick Garland be nominated again by the next president, I would be happy to carefully consider his nomination."

Garland is the oldest Supreme Court nominee since Republican Richard Nixon in 1971 nominated Lewis Powell, who was 64. Presidents tend to pick nominees younger than that so they can serve for decades and extend a president's legacy. Obama may reason that the choice of an older nominee might also entice Senate Republicans into considering his selection.

Garland would become the fourth Jewish member of the nine-member court. There are five Roman Catholics on the court. Obama considered but passed over Garland when he made two prior Supreme Court appointments.

With solid Republican support, the Senate voted in 1997 to confirm Garland to his present job in a bipartisan 76-23 vote after he was nominated by Democratic President Bill Clinton.

Garland is widely viewed as a moderate. He is a former prosecutor who served in the Justice Department under Clinton. He oversaw the prosecution in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing case including securing the death penalty for the lead defendant, anti-government militant Timothy McVeigh.

In his current post, he is known for narrow, centrist opinions and rhetoric that is measured rather than inflammatory even when in dissent.

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