UPDATE 4:20 p.m. EDT — President Barack Obama on Thursday said that Senate Republicans' refusal to consider his Supreme Court nominee was a symptom of broader political polarization.
"Merrick Garland is an extraordinary jurist, who is indisputably qualified to serve on the highest court of the land, and nobody really argues otherwise," Obama said of his pick to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia. "The question then is why is it so hard for the guy to get a hearing?"
While both parties have objected to Supreme Court nominees in the past, the Republicans' refusal to give Garland a hearing is "unprecedented," the president said.
"There has not been a circumstance when a Republican president’s nominee did not get a hearing, did not get a vote, and as a general process they have been confirmed even when there have been strong objections," he said.
Obama also warned that the partisan fight over the Supreme Court has the potential to destroy its ability to function in a fair way.
"We are going to see the kind of sharp polarization that has come to characterize our electoral politics seeping into our judicial system. That erodes the institutional integrity of the judicial branch. At that point people lose confidence in the ability of the courts to fairly adjudicate," Obama said.
"That's why this is so important," he added. "It has to do with how we as a democracy operate, the particular authority that a court has to bring in order for our democracy to operate."
Before he became president, Barack Obama spent more than a decade teaching students constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School. Now, he will return to his alma mater Thursday afternoon to speak on a familiar topic: the importance of the United States Supreme Court.
The visit comes as part of the president’s effort to make a case for his nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Republicans in the Senate have vowed they will not consider Obama’s nominee because they believe a president should not appoint a justice to the Supreme Court during an election year.
Still, Obama and the White House have been putting pressure on Republicans to follow the Constitution and hold a hearing and a vote on his nominee, Merrick Garland, the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The president and other Democrats have repeatedly condemned Republicans for refusing to meet with Garland, with many Democratic senators and politicians telling GOP members to “do your job.”
The president was expected to speak at 3:30 p.m. EDT at the Harold J. Green Law Lounge. The event will begin with a discussion between Obama and David Strauss, a law professor at the University of Chicago and a former colleague of the president’s when he taught there. Obama will also take questions from a crowd of about 250 law school students and faculty members.
When the president speaks, you’ll be able to watch a live stream of the event below:
Despite the hard-line position most Republicans have taken against Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, a small group of GOP senators has agreed to meet with Garland, giving the White House hope that its strategy of appealing to voters may persuade senators up for re-election to be more moderate than the Republican leadership. So far, just 14 Senate Republicans have said they would meet with Garland and just two — Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois — openly support giving him full consideration, NBC News reported Wednesday.
The White House also deployed Vice President Joe Biden last month to make a similar speech to Obama’s, in which he reminded Georgetown University law students and faculty about the importance of having a full Supreme Court. During that talk, Biden also condemned the political nature of the Supreme Court nomination process, a topic that Obama was expected to address Thursday.