WHITE HOUSE —
U.S. President Barack Obama's pick to fill the vacant seat on the Supreme Court is meeting Thursday with two top Democratic Senators, while Republicans, who control the Senate, insist they will not take any action on the nomination.
Federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland, who is widely view as a centrist jurist, has meetings scheduled with Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, as well as Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.
Obama, whose term lasts through late January 2017, has asserted his right to fill the sudden vacancy created last month with the death of conservative justice Antonin Scalia, and says the Senate is obligated to hold confirmation hearings.
Senate Republicans say Obama should let the winner of the November election pick the next justice.
Born: 1952 in Chicago, IL
Education: Harvard College
Law School: Harvard Law School
Professional Career Highlights
- Law clerk, William Brennan Jr., U.S. Supreme Court, 1978-1979
- Special assistant attorney general, U.S. Department of Justice, 1979-1981
- Private practice, Washington, D.C., 1981-1989, 1992-1993
- Assistant US attorney, District of Columbia, 1989-1992
- Deputy assistant attorney general, Criminal Division, U.S. Department of Justice, 1993-1994
- Principal associate deputy attorney general, U.S. Department of Justice, 1994-1997
- Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 1995-present
The showdown over the Supreme Court vacancy is especially contentious because a new justice could tip the ideological balance of the court in either a liberal or conservative direction. The death of Scalia has left the court with eight justices.
Obama announced Garland, the 63-year-old chief judge of the Washington D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, as his choice on Wednesday.
“I simply ask Republicans in the Senate to give him a fair hearing," Obama said.
Duking it out in the Senate
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said Wednesday that Obama should defer and “give the people a voice in filling this vacancy.”
The dispute is over “a principle and not a person,” McConnell said. “It seems clear that President Obama made this nomination not, not with the intent of seeing this nominee confirmed, but in order to politicize it for purposes of the election.”
Republicans are hoping their presidential nominee will win the November election and then name a jurist who will restore the court's conservative-leaning majority.
Undeterred, Democrats are keeping up the pressure on Republicans.
“I do hope they will do their constitutional duty and give President Obama’s nominee a meeting, a hearing and a vote,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat.
Visiting Fellow Russell Wheeler of the Brookings Institution, a Washington research and policy group, said the election season could be "more of a consideration than Garland's impressive credentials."
WATCH: VOA's Michael Bowman reports on nomination
But Wheeler said, "Some Republicans might say, all things considered, are we better off taking a moderate Obama nominee than what could well be a [Democratic front-runner] Hillary Clinton nominee — assuming ... she will defeat [Republican front-runner Donald] Trump — who could be to the left of Garland?”
Analyst Michelle Jawando of the Center for American Progress, a progressive public policy research and advocacy group in Washington, said it is vital that the high court remain above politics.
“This is the type of nominee we shouldn't leave to the petty politics of this moment. The Supreme Court is one of these institutions that we all should think about and recognize the importance of in our society,” Jawando said.
'A spirit of decency'
Current Supreme Court
John G. Roberts: Nominated by President George W. Bush, a Republican; sworn in Sept. 29, 2005. Age 61.
Anthony M. Kennedy: Nominated by Ronald Reagan, Republican; sworn in Feb. 18, 1988. Age 79.
Clarence Thomas: Nominated by George H.W. Bush, Republican; sworn in Oct. 23, 1991. Age 67.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Nominated by Bill Clinton, Democrat; sworn in Aug. 10, 1993. Age 83.
Stephen G. Breyer: Nominated by Clinton; sworn in Aug. 3, 1994. Age 77.
Samuel A. Alito Jr.: Nominated by George W. Bush; sworn in Jan. 31, 2006. Age 65.
Sonia Sotomayor: Nominated by Barack Obama, Democrat; sworn in Aug. 8, 2009. Age 61.
Elena Kagan: Nominated by Obama; sworn in Oct. 1, 2010. Age 55.
“I selected a nominee who is widely recognized not only as one of America's sharpest legal minds, but someone who brings to his work a spirit of decency, modesty, integrity, even-handedness and excellence," Obama said during his announcement in the White House Rose Garden.
The president touted Garland as someone who has “won overwhelming bipartisan praise” as a judge and has a record of compassion and building "consensus as a thoughtful, fair-minded judge who follows the law."
Legal analysts said Garland would not excite Obama’s progressive backers but was a solid strategic choice given the partisan divides in Washington.
“When you are dealing with that kind of climate, it’s really important to have someone who is a consensus nominee,” said Jawando, of the Center for American Progress. “He is not a surprise to those in the legal profession.”
In emotional remarks, Garland called the nomination “the greatest honor of my life,” besides his marriage to his wife, Lynn, and the births of their daughters, Jessie and Becky.
"For me, there could be no higher public service than serving as a member of the United States Supreme Court," Garland said. "Fidelity to the Constitution and the law has been the cornerstone of my professional life and is the hallmark of the kind of judge I've tried to be for the past 18 years."
VOA Capitol Hill correspondent Michael Bowman contributed to this report.
WATCH: Judge Merrick Garland is nominated to fill Supreme Court vacancy