WHITE HOUSE —
U.S. President Barack Obama has selected federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland as his nominee to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created last onth by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
Making the announcement at the White House Rose garden, Obama said Garland is "one of the sharpest legal minds" with a long commitment to legal service.
Obama noted that Garland has won "overwhelming" bipartisan praise as a judge and has brought "unwavering regard for rule of law" to his work.
Considered a moderate, Garland, 63, is currently the chief judge of the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Seven sitting Republican senators were among those who voted to confirm Garland to that court in 1997.
The president, in a statement earlier Wednesday, said his nominee will be someone he believes is "eminently qualified" to sit on the nation's highest court.
Obama said he looked for a judge who possessed three key traits: "an independent mind, unimpeachable credentials, and an unquestionable mastery of law."
Justice Scalia's unexpected death on February 13 during a hunting trip in Texas not only created a vacancy on the nine-member court, but a political standoff between the Democratic president and the Republican-controlled Senate.
Just hours after Scalia's death, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said the "vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president" and vowed not to even hold an up-or-down vote on Obama's nominee. McConnell repeated that stance on Wednesday.
Republicans are hoping their presidential nominee will win the November election and name a jurist that will restore the court's conservative-leaning majority.
Obama, who will remain in office until late January 2017, said it is his constitutional responsibility to choose a Supreme Court nominee promptly.
The current members of the Supreme Court are Chief Justice John Roberts, 61; and Associate Justices Anthony Kennedy, 79; Clarence Thomas, 67; Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 83; Stephen Breyer, 77; Samuel Alito Jr., 65; Sonia Sotomayor, 61, and Elena Kagan, 55.
WATCH: Federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland nominated to fill Supreme Court vacancy