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Who is Merrick Garland? Meet the Chicago Native Tapped for Supreme Court

By Alex Nitkin | March 16, 2016 10:00am | Updated on March 16, 2016 1:01pm
 Merrick Garland, a native Chicagoan, was nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court on March 16, 2016, by President Barack Obama.
Merrick Garland
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CHICAGO — More than a month after the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, President Barack Obama announced Wednesday that he's chosen a fellow Chicagoan to replace him.

Merrick Garland, who has sat on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals since 2013, was born in Chicago in 1952. His late father, Cyril Garland, was the founder of an advertising firm he ran out of his basement.

In announcing his nomination, Obama said Garland is known for his "decency, modesty, integrity, evenhandedness and excellence."

"People respect the way he treats others," said Obama. "He's the right man for the job."

"It's a great privilege to be nominated by a fellow Chicagoan," Garland said at a White House introduction, describing it as "the greatest gift I've ever received" aside from the birth of his two daughters.

 Garland first appeared in the Tribune in 1970, when he was selected as part of the Presidential Scholars Program to visit the White House and see President Richard M. Nixon.
Garland first appeared in the Tribune in 1970, when he was selected as part of the Presidential Scholars Program to visit the White House and see President Richard M. Nixon.
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Chicago Tribune archives

Garland spent his childhood in north suburban Lincolnwood, and he attended Niles West High School in Skokie and graduated as the class valedictorian. As a high school senior, he was one of 119 members of the Presidential Scholars Program chosen to visit the White House and hear a special address from President Richard Nixon.

Obama said that at the high school graduation ceremony, another student was giving a speech against the Vietnam War when that student's microphone was turned off. Garland abandoned his own prepared remarks and gave "a passionate defense of our first amendment rights," Obama said.

At the White House news conference, Garland thanked his parents for instilling a sense of public service. His father "ran the smallest of small businesses" out of the basement of his home while his mother was active in the PTA, an effort that taught him the importance of service to the community. His father instilled "the importance of hard work and fair dealing," Garland said.

Garland, who would be the fourth Jewish Supreme Court justice on the court, talked of his grandparents coming to Chicago in the early 1900s from Russia fleeing anti-Semitism and "hoping to make a better life for their children."

The Jewish newspaper Forward said he is the son of a Jewish mother, Shirley Horowitz, and non-Jewish father, who died in 2000. He and his wife Lynn Rosenman were married by a rabbi.

Garland graduated from Harvard Law School, using scholarship money, tutoring, working at a shoe store and, said Obama, "by selling his comic book collection."

Obama described the latter as a painful choice. "Been there," said the president.

Obama and Merrick Garland and Comic Books

Garland would be the first Chicagoan to sit on the Supreme Court since John Paul Stevens, who was born in Hyde Park and earned degrees from the University of Chicago and Northwestern University.

Garland also served as the highest-ranking Justice Department official dispatched to Oklahoma City in the aftermath of the bombing in 1995. He helped start the case, and later supervised the prosecutors from department headquarters, according to the New York Times.

As the nomination plans were made public Wednesday morning, the White House already was ramping up its campaign, creating the Twitter handle @SCOTUSnom.

Garland's appointment to the court is far from guaranteed, however, as Senate Republicans have vowed to block any nomination Obama makes during his remaining time in office.

Obama said that it was the obligation of the Senate to give Garland, who now lives in Bethesda, Md.,  a hearing. 

"I would like to see one person come to this floor and say one reason why Merrick shouldn't ... have this position," Obama said.

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