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Barack Obama nominates Merrick Garland to Supreme Court

President Barack Obama has nominated appeals court judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.

The move thrusts a respected moderate jurist and former prosecutor into the centre of an election-year clash over the future of the nation's highest court.

Mr Obama cast the 63-year-old as "a serious man and an exemplary judge" deserving of a full hearing and a Senate confirmation vote, despite Republican vows to deny him both.

Standing in the White House Rose Garden with Mr Garland, Mr Obama argued the integrity of the court was at stake and appealed to the Senate to "play it straight" in filling the seat left vacant by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

"It's supposed to be above politics," Mr Obama said of the high court. "It has to be. And it should stay that way."

Republican leaders, however, held to their refusal to consider any nominee, saying the seat should be filled by the next president after this year's election.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell spoke with Mr Garland by phone but did not change his position that "the American people will have a voice". He said he would not be holding "a perfunctory meeting but he wished Judge Garland well," a spokesman said.

Others in the GOP ranks were less wedded to the no-hearing stance - a sign that Republicans are aware the strategy could leave them branded as obstructionist.

Unlike senator McConnell, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Charles Grassley said he is open to meeting with Mr Garland in the coming weeks, as did five other Republican senators - Rob Portman of Ohio, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine, James Inhofe of Oklahoma and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.

The judge will begin visiting with Democratic senators on Thursday at the capital, before the Senate breaks for a two-week recess.

Mr Garland, 63, is the chief judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, a court whose influence over federal policy and national security matters has made it a proving ground for potential justices.

A graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, Garland has clerked for two appointees of Republican President Dwight D Eisenhower - the liberal Justice William Brennan Junior as well as Judge Henry J Friendly, for whom Chief Justice John Roberts also clerked. As a federal prosecutor, he made his reputation overseeing the investigation and prosecutions in the Oklahoma City bombing case in 1995, as well as the case against Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.

When confirmed to the DC Circuit in 1997, Mr Garland won backing from a majority in both parties, including seven current Republicans senators.

As a replacement for Scalia, Mr Garland would undoubtedly shift the court away from its conservative tilt. He would be expected to align with the more liberal members on environmental regulation, labour disputes and campaign finance.

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