Sen. Patrick Leahy, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, commended Supreme Court nominee Merrick B. Garland on Wednesday as "immensely and undeniably qualified," asserting that President Obama's decision to pick a moderate, respected legal mind should prod Republicans into action on confirmation.
"Our constitutional duties as senators and the traditions of our institution should not be trumped by partisan politics," said Leahy, Vermont's senior senator. The committee's chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley, of Iowa, and others in the GOP have pledged to block any Senate action on an Obama nominee to the court.
Garland's resume is lengthy. He graduated first in his class from Harvard College before attending Harvard Law School. He served in the U.S. Department of Justice under Republican and Democratic presidents, and helped coordinate the agency's response and prosecution in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing case.
Garland also served for nearly 19 years on the widely respected U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The White House said he had more federal judicial experience than any other Supreme Court nominee in history.
His initial confirmation vote to the D.C. court, in 1997, was 76-23. The supporters included Leahy and the late Sen. Jim Jeffords, of Vermont, who was then a Republican.
A number of other Republicans supported Garland in 1997. But the current Judiciary chairman, Grassley, cast a nay vote. So did Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions, another member of the Judiciary Committee, as well as current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky.
"The American people may well elect a president who decides to nominate Judge Garland for Senate consideration," McConnell said Wednesday. "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."
In the face of Republican resistance, Leahy is pushing to get Garland through.
He said he will review Garland's record over the coming days and meet with the nominee as he tries to schedule nomination hearings.
"Chief Judge Garland is undeniably fair-minded and independent, and it is no wonder that he has received praise from across the political spectrum," Leahy said. "He should be confirmed without controversy.
The two other members of Vermont's congressional delegation also voiced support for Garland on Wednesday. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders called him a "strong nominee with decades of experience on the bench," and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, a Democrat, said he was an "exceptionally qualified jurist."
Garland would replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February.