WASHINGTON, March 16 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama on Wednesday nominated Merrick Garland, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals in the D.C. district, to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
"Of the many powers and responsibilities that the Constitution vests in the presidency, few are more consequential than appointing a Supreme Court justice. Particularly one to succeed Justice Scalia, one of the most influential jurists of our time," Obama said during an address on Wednesday at the White House's Rose Garden. "Today, after completing this exhaustive process, I've made my decision ... Today, I am nominating Chief Judge Merrick Brian Garland to join the Supreme Court."
Obama said Garland is widely recognized as one of the country's sharpest legal minds and as 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 of leaders from both sides of the aisle," Obama added.
The White House said Garland is the most qualified person to immediately serve on the Supreme Court.
"Thank you Mr. President, this is the greatest honor of my life, other than Lynn agreeing to marry me 28 years ago," Garland said Wednesday as he held back tears. "It's also the greatest gift I've ever received, except and there's another caveat, the birth of our daughters."
"As my parents taught me by both words and deeds, a life of public service is as much a gift to the person who serves as it is to those he is serving, and for me there could be no higher public service than serving as a member of the United States Supreme Court," Garland said.
After the announcement, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who serves on the Judiciary Committee, said he is "committed to let the American people have a voice in deciding who will be Justice Scalia's replacement," previously adding that he and his colleagues "won't have any hearings or votes."
The White House credits Garland for overseeing the prosecutions of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols for the Oklahoma City bombing, as well as the government response to the onslaught brought by Ted Kaczynski, commonly known as the "Unabomber."
Garland was appointed to the D.C. Circuit Court by President Bill Clinton in 1997 with a bipartisan majority of support, where he's served as chief judge since 2013.
Garland, 63, is considered a moderate who could be seen as a possible compromise candidate amid heated debate between Democrats and Republicans on whether Obama or the next president should nominate a replacement. The political parties have been at odds since Scalia's death on Feb. 13.
Obama has appointed two justices to the Supreme Court during his presidency -- Sonia Sotomayor in 2009 and Elena Kagan a year later -- and some Republican leaders argue that with upcoming general elections and less than a year remaining in his second term, leaving Scalia's seat vacant for the new president to fill is the right move.
"I have fulfilled my Constitutional duty. Now it's time for the Senate to do theirs. Presidents do not stop working in the final year of their term, neither should a senator," Obama said.