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Obama presses case for Garland Supreme Court nomination

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    Judge Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s choice to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, smiled as he met with Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., in her office on Capitol Hill in Washington today.

CHICAGO » The stalled nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court is giving President Barack Obama a chance to do what he says he’s missed: go back to school.

Obama returned today to the University of Chicago Law School, where he taught for more than a decade, to press his case for why the Senate should give Garland a seat on the nation’s most powerful court.

The president was being joined by a former law school colleague, professor David Strauss, for a conversation with students, faculty and judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, which has jurisdiction over legal matters from Illinois, and other local judges.

Obama chose Garland, a Chicago native and chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, to fill the seat left vacant by the February death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.

The next step in the process of putting a new justice on the Supreme Court typically has the nominee answering questions during hearings by the Senate Judiciary Committee, before the committee votes on whether to forward the nomination to the floor for a confirmation vote by the full Senate.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, are refusing to hold hearings or votes on Garland’s nomination. They maintain it is the responsibility of the next president to choose the newest justice.

Obama, a Democrat, leaves office in January 2017.

On the Senate floor today, McConnell cited a newspaper fact-check article and said that when Obama flies to Chicago to try to persuade the public that the Constitution requires a Senate vote on his nominee, “he’ll be telling supporters a politically convenient fairy tale.”

The two sides disagree over what the Senate is constitutionally required to do.

Garland has been meeting with both Democratic and Republican senators on Capitol Hill, but there is no indication the sessions are influencing the political calculus of the Senate Republican leadership.

He scheduled meetings today with four Democrats: Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Chris Coons of Delaware and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

Blumenthal, after his meeting, urged more Republicans to meet with the nominee.

“He will be a unifying force if confirmed,” Blumenthal said.

Most GOP senators, including McConnell, have said they will not meet with Garland, though Grassley has invited the judge to meet over breakfast on Tuesday. The White House said Garland will meet with other Republicans next week, including Sens Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Rob Portman of Ohio, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Jeff Flake of Arizona.

Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, a Republican regarded as one of the most vulnerable incumbents seeking re-election in November, was the first GOP senator to meet with Garland. Kirk is Garland’s home-state senator and one of a few Republicans to call for hearings on his nomination.

Kirk today tweeted a photo of a handwritten note Obama sent thanking the senator for meeting with Garland late last month. Kirk tweeted that he met with the judge “because my responsibility to the people of #IL is more important than partisanship.”

Obama has accused Republicans of blocking Garland for political reasons.

In the note to Kirk, Obama said: “Thank you for your fair and responsible treatment of Merrick Garland. It upholds the institutional values of the Senate, and helps preserve the bipartisan ideals of an independent judiciary.”

Obama’s return to the university will mark his first stop there as president. He has often said he misses teaching and being in a classroom. The trip is also his second of the year to his adopted home state of Illinois.

In remarks to a group of students before the event, Obama told the aspiring lawyers not to be frustrated by the slow pace of change and political fights.

“I hope that during the time that you’re spending here and learning about case law … that you haven’t lost any of the idealism that originally led you to the law,” Obama said. “Take it from me, you really are able to make an incredible difference in the lives of people, day in and day out.”

From Chicago, Obama is heading to California to raise campaign cash for fellow Democrats at events through late Friday. He was joined on his trip by daughter Malia Obama, who is expected to start college in the fall and has toured colleges on the West Coast.

He is headlining a House Democratic fundraiser today night at the Los Angeles home of Walt Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn. House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, is among those expected to attend the soiree, where tickets cost $33,400 per couple, officials said.

Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.

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