WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama was poised to announce his nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday at the White House, setting the stage for a potentially ferocious political showdown with Senate Republicans who have pledged to bar anyone Obama selects.
Obama said in a statement released by the White House that he will unveil his nominee at 11 a.m. EDT in the White House Rose Garden. He is likely to announce one of two federal appeals court judges, Sri Srinivasan or Merrick Garland, as his choice, a source familiar with the selection process told Reuters.
— SCOTUS Nom (NARA) (@SCOTUSnom) March 16, 2016
The Indian-born Srinivasan, 49, would be the first Asian-American and first Hindu Supreme Court justice. Garland, 63, is a long-time appellate judge and former prosecutor who Obama also considered when he filled two previous Supreme Court vacancies.
Obama has been searching for a replacement for long-serving conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who died Feb. 13.
“I’m confident you’ll share my conviction that this American is not only eminently qualified to be a Supreme Court Justice, but deserves a fair hearing, and an up-or-down vote,” Obama said in the statement ahead of his scheduled announcement in the White House Rose Garden.
Senate Republicans have vowed not to hold confirmation hearings or a vote on any nominee picked by the Democratic president for the lifetime position on the court. Senate confirmation is required for any nominee to join the bench.
Obama said he hoped the Senate would do its job and “move quickly to consider my nominee.”
Without Scalia, the nine-member Supreme Court is evenly split with four liberals and four conservative justices. Obama’s nominee could tilt the court to the left for the first time in decades.
Republicans, hoping a candidate from their party wins the Nov. 8 presidential election, want the next president, who takes office in January, to make the selection.
Billionaire Donald Trump is the leading Republican presidential candidate. Obama’s former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, is the front-runner on the Democratic side.
Trump, speaking on ABC’s “Good Morning America” program, said it was critical for Republicans to take back the White House to avoid Democrats shaping the Supreme Court.
“You have four Supreme Court judgeships coming up, and that would mean they would take over, that would mean for 50 years, probably, this country will never be the same,” Trump said.
“The Republicans should do exactly what they are doing. I think they should wait till the next president and let the next president pick,” Trump said.
Republicans and their allies already have geared up to fight Obama’s nominee. Republican National Committee on Monday announced the formation of a task force that will work with an outside conservative group to spearhead attack ads and other ways of pushing back against Obama’s choice.
Appeals court judges
Srinivasan and Garland serve together on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which has served as a springboard to the Supreme Court for several justices including Scalia in recent decades.
Srinivasan and Garland are seen as having unique attributes that could weigh heavily in Obama’s decision, and both are viewed as moderates.
Srinivasan could appeal to the president’s long-declared interest in bringing more diversity to the bench. He was born in India and grew up in Kansas, the son of a mathematics professor. Obama appointed him to the appeals court in 2013. The Senate confirmed him in a 97-0 vote.
Srinivasan has served in the Justice Department under Democratic and Republican presidents and worked as a clerk to the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court, Sandra Day O’Connor, an appointee of Republican President Ronald Reagan.
Garland, who has earned praise from lawmakers of both parties, is the chief judge of the Washington appeals court, where he has served since being appointed by Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1997, winning confirmation in a 76-23 vote. Prior to that, he served in the Justice Department during the Clinton administration.
Obama may be looking for a nominee who could convince the Republicans to change course. Garland could fit that bill with moderate record, background as a prosecutor and a history of drawing Republican support.
Garland was under consideration in 2009 for Obama’s first appointment but the president chose Sonia Sotomayor.
The Obama administration also regarded Garland as a future compromise choice if another vacancy opened in an election year with the Senate under Republican control, according to Obama advisers at the time and others weighing in on the current nomination. That is the situation now confronting Obama.
Presidents tend to pick nominees younger than Garland, so they can serve for decades and extend a president’s legacy. But Obama may reason that the choice of an older nominee might also entice Senate Republicans into considering Obama’s selection.
Obama already has named two justices to the Supreme Court: Sotomayor, who at 55 became the first Hispanic justice in 2009, and Elena Kagan, who was 50 when she became the fourth woman to ever serve on the court in 2010.
Another judge who had been a candidate for the post, Paul Watford, would be only the third black justice in U.S. history.