WASHINGTON — President Obama on Wednesday said he would nominate Merrick B. Garland as the nation’s 113th Supreme Court justice, choosing a centrist appeals court judge for the lifetime appointment and daring Republican senators to refuse consideration of a jurist who is highly regarded throughout Washington.
Mr. Obama introduced Judge Garland to an audience of his family members, activists, and White House staff in the Rose Garden Wednesday morning, describing him as exceptionally qualified to serve on the Supreme Court in the seat vacated by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February.
The president said Judge Garland 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. These qualities and his long commitment to public service have earned him the respect and admiration from leaders from both sides of the aisle.”
He added that Judge Garland “will ultimately bring that same character to bear on the Supreme Court, an institution on which he is uniquely prepared to serve immediately.”
Mr. Obama said it is tempting to make the confirmation process “an extension of our divided politics.” But he warned that “to go down that path would be wrong.”
Mr. Obama demanded a fair hearing for Judge Garland and said that refusing to even consider his nomination would provoke “an endless cycle of more tit for tat” that would undermine the democratic process for years to come.
“I simply ask Republicans in the Senate to give him a fair hearing, and then an up or down vote,” Mr. Obama said. “If you don’t, then it will not only be an abdication of the Senate’s constitutional duty, it will indicate a process for nominating and confirming judges that is beyond repair.”
But shortly after the ceremony, Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, took to the Senate floor to reiterate his position that the nomination process should be blocked.
“The American people may well elect a president who decides to nominate Judge Garland for Senate consideration,” Mr. McConnell said. “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 brief remarks in the Rose Garden, Judge Garland emotionally described his legal career as a prosecutor and a judge, saying that “fidelity to the Constitution and the law have been the cornerstone of my professional life.” He said that if the Senate confirmed him, he promised to “continue on that course.”
At the end of the Rose Garden ceremony — which took place during idyllic weather on an unusually warm mid-March day with the garden’s Tulip Magnolia trees covered in pink blossoms — much of the Senate’s Democratic leadership warmly greeted Lynn Garland, Judge Garland’s wife, and one of their daughters in something akin to a receiving line.
In answer to a shouted question regarding her husband’s nomination, Ms. Garland shyly smiled but said nothing to reporters.
In choosing Judge Garland, a well-known moderate who has drawn bipartisan support over decades, Mr. Obama was essentially daring Republicans to press their election-year confirmation fight over a judge many of them have publicly praised and who would be difficult for them to reject, particularly if a Democrat were to win the November presidential election and they faced the prospect of a more liberal nominee in 2017.
Judge Garland persevered through a lengthy political battle in the mid-1990s that delayed his own confirmation to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit by more than a year. Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, argued at the time that the vacancy should not be filled.
Twenty years later, Mr. Grassley and other Republicans are again standing in the way of Judge Garland’s appointment, arguing that the next president should be the one to pick the successor to Justice Scalia. Republicans in the Senate and on the presidential campaign trail vowed to stand firm against whomever Mr. Obama chose.
In remarks Monday, Mr. Obama chastised Republicans for taking that stand, demanding that the Republican-controlled Senate fulfill its responsibility to consider Judge Garland and hold a timely vote on his nomination. Do do anything else would be irresponsible, he said.
Judge Garland is often described as brilliant and, at 63, is somewhat older for a Supreme Court nominee. He is two years older than Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who has been with the court for more than 10 years. The two served together on the appeals court and are said to be friends.
Supreme Court nominees tend to be in their early 50s. In choosing Judge Garland, Mr. Obama very likely gave away the possibility of a justice who would serve on the Supreme Court perhaps three decades. Instead, he imposed a sort of actuarial term limit on the nomination and thus his legacy, offering Senate Republicans a compromise not only on ideology, but also on tenure.
The Oklahoma City bombing case in 1995 helped shape Judge Garland’sprofessional life. He coordinated the Justice Department’s response, starting the case against the bombers and eventually supervising their prosecution.
Judge Garland insisted on being sent to the scene even as bodies were being pulled out of the wreckage, said Jamie S. Gorelick, then the deputy attorney general.
“At the time, he said to me the equivalent of ‘Send me in, coach,’” Ms. Gorelick said. “He worked around the clock, and he was flawless.”
White House officials on Wednesday noted that Judge Garland was confirmed to his current post in 1997 with the support of seven sitting Republicans: Senators Dan Coats of Indiana, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Susan Collins of Maine, Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, John McCain of Arizona, Pat Roberts of Kansas.
The White House also cited positive comments about Judge Garland from Chief Justice Roberts, the Republican governors of Oklahoma and Iowa, and former Republican officials in the Justice Department.
Because of his position, disposition and bipartisan popularity, Judge Garland has been on Mr. Obama’s shortlist of potential nominees for years. In 2010, when Mr. Obama interviewed him for the slot that he instead gave to Justice Elena Kagan, Mr. Hatch said publicly that he had urged Mr. Obama to nominate Judge Garland.
“I know Merrick Garland very well,” Mr. Hatch said at the time. “He would be very well supported by all sides.”
In an email to supporters early Wednesday morning, Mr. Obama said he considered three principles in making his choice: whether the person possessed “an independent mind, unimpeachable credentials and an unquestionable mastery of law”; whether the nominee recognized “the limits of the judiciary’s role”; and whether his choice understood that “justice is not about abstract legal theory, nor some footnote in a dusty casebook.”
Mr. Obama said that he was “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.”
At a news conference on Thursday, Mr. Obama said that Republicans must “decide whether they want to follow the Constitution and abide by the rules of fair play that ultimately undergird our democracy and that ensure that the Supreme Court does not just become one more extension of our polarized politics.”