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Former Rep. William Jefferson may soon get date to report to prison
Apr-19-2012 706 0


A court hearing Friday could determine whether former Rep. William Jefferson, D-New Orleans, will begin serving his 13-year corruption sentence before summer. Some legal experts expect federal prosecutors to ask Judge T.S. Ellis III, who presided over Jefferson's six-week 2009 trial, to revoke Jefferson's $50,000 bail and set a date for him to begin his sentence.

Ellis also could allow Jefferson to self report by a court-imposed deadline.

After sentencing Jefferson, Ellis rejected calls by prosecutors to imprison him immediately and instead allowed him to remain free with an electronic monitor pending resolution of his appeals.

Friday's hearing was scheduled after Jefferson's lawyers failed to meet last week's deadline for filing an appeal with the full 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Legal experts said the decision indicates his lawyers will go directly to the U.S. Supreme Court to challenge a unanimous ruling last month by a three-judge 4th Circuit panel rejecting Jefferson's request for a new trial.

The high court probably won't decide whether to take the case -- and they accept only a tiny percentage -- until next fall.

University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias, who has been closely following the case, said it is possible prosecutors will argue the unanimous verdict by the 4th Circuit panel makes it unlikely he'll succeed with his Supreme Court appeal.

Ellis "has been pretty strict when it comes to corruption cases," Tobias said, "and if the prosecutors move to (set a date to report to prison) the judge may well grant it."

Kevin Thomas, a consultant with the MPM Group, which helps clients with sentence-mitigation efforts, said he thinks it's likely prosecutors will prevail.

"It was unusual for him (Jefferson) to stay out after sentencing and I would be shocked if the judge let him stay out now that the appellate court has ruled," Thomas said. "But then again his attorney (Robert Trout) is formidable and he could talk a starving dog off a meat wagon."

Jefferson, 65, isn't likely to be remanded into prison immediately, though. In a filing with Judge Ellis, lead prosecutor Mark Lytle expressed no objections if Jefferson chose not to attend Friday's session at the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Va.

Neither Lytle nor Trout would comment Wednesday.

Tobias said it's no surprise Jefferson's lawyers decided not to file an appeal with the full 4th Circuit, given the unanimous ruling by the three-judge panel.

In a 64-page ruling issued March 26, the appellate judges rejected the legal arguments by Jefferson that Judge Ellis erroneously instructed the jury about what the accepted practice is for official acts by a member of Congress.

Jefferson's lawyers argued the government had dramatically expanded the definition -- taking it beyond what most consider official acts, such as casting votes, introducing bills and committee work -- to include influencing foreign officials in Western Africa on behalf of private business executives.

"The (judge's) instructions did not in any way supplant the statutory definition of what constitutes an official act; it simply explained to the jury that an official act need not be prescribed by statute, but rather may include acts that a congressman customarily performs," according to the three judges.

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Cristian Farias Jun-23-2016 61 0
The Supreme Court couldn't reach a majority for or against President Barack Obama's plan to defer deportation for millions Thursday, effectively leaving his executive actions on hold and undocumented immigrants in limbo.

The split decision means a lower court ruling that effectively blocked the program will stand, and no national precedent will be set as to whether the president acted within the law when he announced them in November 2014.

The case, United States v. Texas, stood to test the limits of executive power in the face of congressional inaction on immigration -- a chance for Obama to prove that he, like his predecessors, had the authority to help millions of undocumented immigrants who want to live here without fear of deportation.

On that issue, the justices had sent an ominous sign to the president when they first agreed to hear the case, asking the Obama administration and the 26 states challenging it to explain whether the deportation relief plan violated the Constitution.

No lower court had previously addressed that question, leading to the speculation that a conservative majority on the Supreme Court had every intention of turning the dispute into a constitutional showdown -- perhaps to send a message to Obama about the separation of powers in his last year in office.

But the unexpected death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February changed the landscape, and a diminished court had to hear the case just as the political branches were facing off over the confirmation of who would replace him on the bench.

That may explain why the justices largely skirted the constitutional issue at oral arguments, focusing instead on more technical legal matters, such as the meaning of "lawful presence" in immigration law and the doctrine of standing -- or Texas' ability to claim injury and sue over a policy area where Congress has given the executive branch broad latitude.

Obama relied on that latitude when he announced the centerpiece of his ambitious immigration plan, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents -- or DAPA -- which promised to grant a reprieve of deportation and work authorization to parents of U.S. citizens and others who are lawfully in the country.

But before the program could get off the ground, a coalition of states, led by Texas, sued the federal government in a small courthouse near the U.S.-Mexico border -- a move that legal observers viewed as an attempt to land the lawsuit before a sympathetic judge who might rule against the administration.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen, the George W. Bush appointee who was assigned the case, turned out to be precisely that and then some: He not only issued a nationwide injunction that put the brakes on Obama's plan, but has also ruled sweepingly against the administration on issues of ethics that have left the Department of Justice and thousands of undocumented immigrants on edge.

The 4-4 decision that maintains the status quo will likely increase tension during an election season in which people are already energized on both sides of the debate over whether to use executive authority to act on immigration.
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AP Jun-04-2016 136 0
President Barack Obama shortened the sentences Friday of 42 people serving time for drug-related offenses, continuing a push for clemency that has ramped up in the final year of his administration.

Roughly half of the 42 receiving commutations Friday were serving life sentences. Most are nonviolent offenders, although a few were also charged with firearms violations. The White House said many of them would have already finished their sentences if they had been sentenced under current, less onerous sentencing guidelines.

The latest group of commutations brings to 348 the total number of inmates whose sentences Obama has commuted — more than the past seven presidents combined, the White House said. The pace of commutations and the rarer use of pardons are expected to increase as the end of Obama's presidency nears.

"He remains committed to using his clemency power throughout the remainder of the administration to give more deserving individuals that same second chance," White House counsel Neil Eggleston wrote in a blog post.

Eggleston added that the offenders receiving commutations had "more than repaid their debt to society and earned this second chance."

One of the offenders, Douglas Ray Dunkins Jr. of Fort Worth, Texas, had been held up by civil liberties groups as one of the most egregious examples of over-sentencing. Dunkins had only a minor shoplifting conviction on his prior record in 1993 when, at age 26, he was sentenced to life imprisonment for conspiracy to possess and distribute crack cocaine, the American Civil Liberties Union said in a report. No drugs were found, but prosecutors used testimony from co-conspirators who testified in exchange for lighter sentences, the ACLU said.

The ACLU said Dunkins had worked for nearly a decade as a paralegal helping other inmates with legal work and wanted to mentor youth if he ever got out. Dunkins is slated to be released in October.

"The day-to-day of prison is taking an even greater toll on me. ... I wake up every day and pray in a cell that's white and grey with little room to move around in between me and my cellmate," Dunkins wrote in an opinion piece last year in The Guardian. "Clemency is something that I long for — not just for me, but for a lot of inmates who have served well over 20-plus years for crimes involving crack cocaine."

Though there's wide bipartisan support for a criminal justice overhaul, what had looked like a promising legislative opportunity in Obama's final year has mostly lost steam. As with Obama's other priorities, the chaotic presidential campaign has increasingly made cooperation among Republicans and Democrats in Congress difficult to achieve this year.

Obama has long called for getting rid of strict sentences for drug offenses, arguing they lead to excessive punishment and sky-high incarceration rates. With Obama's support, the Justice Department in recent years has directed prosecutors to rein in the use of harsh mandatory minimums.

The Obama administration has also expanded criteria for inmates applying for clemency, targeting nonviolent offenders who have behaved well in prison and would have received shorter sentences if convicted of the same crime a few years later. Civil liberties groups hailed that move but have since raised concerns that too few are actually receiving clemency under the policy.
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Jeremy Diamond Jun-03-2016 157 0
Donald Trump sought to tout his support among African-Americans on Friday by pointing out a black man in the crowd and calling him "my African-American."

"Oh, look at my African-American over here. Look at him," Trump said. "Are you the greatest?"

The remark didn't generate a noticeable response from Trump's audience.
Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks told CNN Trump was "just referring to a supporter in the crowd. There's no ill will intended, obviously." She added Trump was "grateful for this person's support."

Hicks also rejected the suggestion that Trump's use of the possessive "my" to refer to the supporter was racist, saying such a charge was "ridiculous."

Trump's remark came as he recalled an incident in March when a black supporter of his assaulted a protester at a rally in Arizona as he was being escorted out of the building by police.

The comment also comes as Trump is under fire for calling on the federal judge presiding over one of the lawsuits against Trump University to recuse himself because of his Mexican heritage.

Trump again argued Friday in an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper that the judge is inherently biased against him because of the presumptive GOP nominee's plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The presumptive Republican nominee has repeatedly hit back at charges that he is racist by insisting he is "the least racist person that you have ever met."

Still, Trump's rhetoric has repeatedly drawn charges of racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia.
Trump kicked off his campaign by calling some undocumented immigrants from Mexico "rapists" and criminals and then stoked Islamophobic sentiment in December by calling for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States."

Trump said in March that he believes "Islam hates us" and said last fall that a Black Lives Matter protester who disrupted his rally and was kicked and punched by Trump supporters probably "should have been roughed up."

Still, Trump has insisted that his campaign message will have enormous appeal among minority communities, particularly African-Americans and Hispanic Americans.

The de facto Republican nominee insists that his promise to bring jobs back to the U.S. and reduce unemployment in minority communities will draw those groups to his controversial candidacy.
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Rebecca Savransky May-25-2016 191 0
The Obamas are planning to rent a home in the Kalorama neighborhood of Washington, D.C., after the president's term is up, The National Journal reported Tuesday.

The family is staying in Washington so President Obama's youngest daughter, Sasha, can finish high school in the area.

The White House has not said which house the president and his family plan to move to, but their new home will be in walking distance of the ambassadorial residences of Britain, the European Union, France, Iceland and Portugal.

Obama was reportedly considering Kalorama or Embassy Row, but decided on Kalorama, the neighborhood just east of Massachusetts Avenue NW.

Obama will be the first president to stay in D.C. after his presidential term since Woodrow Wilson in 1921, according to DCist.
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Rebecca Kheel May-05-2016 272 0
Bush-era war authorizations do not give President Obama authority to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an Army officer argued in a lawsuit filed Wednesday against Obama.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. district court by an intelligence officer stationed in Kuwait who says he supports the fight against ISIS, but believes it is being carried out illegally because Congress hasn't authorized it.

"How could I honor my oath when I am fighting a war, even a good war, that the Constitution does not allow, or Congress has not approved?" Capt. Nathan Michael Smith wrote. "To honor my oath, I am asking the court to tell the president that he must get proper authority from Congress, under the War Powers Resolution, to wage the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria."

President Obama has sought an authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) from Congress. But Congress has been hesitant to take it up, with Republicans worried it would be too restrictive and some Democrats worried it wouldn't be restrictive enough.

In the absence of a new AUMF, Obama has said he has the authority to fight ISIS from the 2001 AUMF that authorized going after al Qaeda, from which ISIS originated.

The administration has also cited the 2002 AUMF that authorized the war in Iraq.

The issue arose anew in the past few weeks after Obama and the Pentagon announced the deployment of another 217 troops to Iraq and 250 to Syria.

The lawsuit also comes the day after the third combat death of U.S. service member in the fight against ISIS, which against stoked the issue of a lack of an AUMF.

"Praying for the family of the Navy SEAL tragically killed in Iraq. Our troops are in harms way yet Congress lacks courage to debate this war," Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) tweeted Tuesday. Lee was Congress's one dissenter against the 2001 AUMF and has long called for Congress to debate a new use of force measure.

The lawsuit hinges on the War Powers Resolution, a Vietnam War-era law that says the president must get a war declaration or AUMF from Congress within 60 days of deploying troops or else withdraw within another 30 days.

"The President did not get Congress's approval for his war against ISIS in Iraq or Syria within the sixty days, but he also did not terminate the war," the suit says. "The war is therefore illegal."

The suit also says the 2001 AUMF does not apply because it authorized war against those who carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, which ISIS did not.

The 2002 authorization does not apply, the suit adds, because the war that it authorized has been declared over and because it does not cover Syria.

"In waging war against ISIS," the suit says, "President Obama is misusing limited congressional authorizations for the use of military force as a blank check to conduct a war against enemies of his own choosing, without geographical or temporal boundaries."
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SHERYL GAY STOLBERG Apr-24-2016 241 0
Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia used his executive power on Friday to restore voting rights to more than 200,000 convicted felons, circumventing the Republican-run legislature. The action effectively overturns a Civil War-era provision in the state’s Constitution aimed, he said, at disenfranchising African-Americans.

The sweeping order, in a swing state that could play a role in deciding the November presidential election, will enable all felons who have served their prison time and finished parole or probation to register to vote. Most are African-Americans, a core constituency of Democrats, Mr. McAuliffe’s political party.

Amid intensifying national attention over harsh sentencing policies that have disproportionately affected African-Americans, governors and legislatures around the nation have been debating — and often fighting over — moves to restore voting rights for convicted felons. Virginia imposes especially harsh restrictions, barring felons from voting for life.

In Kentucky, Gov. Matt Bevin, a newly elected Republican, recently overturned an order enacted by his Democratic predecessor that was similar to the one Mr. McAuliffe signed Friday. In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, vetoed a measure to restore voting rights to convicted felons, but Democrats in the state legislature overrode him in February and an estimated 44,000 former prisoners who are on probation can now register to vote.

“There’s no question that we’ve had a horrible history in voting rights as relates to African-Americans — we should remedy it,” Mr. McAuliffe said in an interview Thursday, previewing the announcement he made on the steps of Virginia’s Capitol, just yards from where President Abraham Lincoln once addressed freed slaves. “We should do it as soon as we possibly can.”

Republicans in the Virginia Legislature have resisted measures to expand voting rights for convicted felons, and Mr. McAuliffe’s action, which he said was justified under an expansive legal interpretation of his executive clemency authority, provoked an immediate backlash. Virginia Republicans issued a statement Friday accusing the governor of “political opportunism” and “a transparent effort to win votes.”

“Those who have paid their debts to society should be allowed full participation in society,” said the statement from the party chairman, John Whitbeck. “But there are limits.” He said Mr. McAuliffe was wrong to issue a blanket restoration of rights, even to those who “committed heinous acts of violence.”
The order includes those convicted of violent crimes, including murder and rape. There is no way to know how many of the newly eligible voters in Virginia will register. “My message is going to be that I have now done my part,” Mr. McAuliffe said.

Nationally, an estimated 5.85 million Americans are denied the right to vote because of felony convictions, according to The Sentencing Project, a Washington research organizations, which says one in five African-Americans in Virginia cannot vote.

Only two states, Maine and Vermont, have no voting restrictions on felons; Virginia is among four – the others are Kentucky, Florida and Iowa – that have the harshest restrictions.

Friday’s shift in Virginia is part of a national trend toward restoring voter rights to felons, based in part on the hope that it will aid former prisoners’ re-entry into society. Over the last two decades about 20 states have acted to ease their restrictions, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

In Kentucky, Mr. Bevin, who took office in November, promptly overturned an executive order issued by his predecessor, Steven L. Beshear, just before he left office. Then, last week, Mr. Bevin signed into law a less expansive measure, allowing felons to petition judges to vacate their convictions, which would enable them to vote.

Previous governors in Florida and Iowa took executive action to ease their lifetime bans, but in each case, a subsequent governor restored the tough rules.

Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, said Mr. McAuliffe’s decision would have lasting consequences because it will remain in effect at least until January 2018, when the governor leaves office.

“This will be the single most significant action on disenfranchisement that we’ve ever seen from a governor,” Mr. Mauer said, “and it’s noteworthy that it’s coming in the middle of this term, not the day before he leaves office. So there may be some political heat but clearly he’s willing to take that on, which is quite admirable.”

Myrna Pérez, director of a voting rights project at the Brennan Center, said Mr. McAuliffe’s move was particularly important because Virginia has had such restrictive laws on voting by felons. Still, she said,“Compared to the rest of the country, this is a very middle of the road policy.’’

Ms. Pérez said a number of states already had less restrictive policies than the one announced by Mr. McAuliffe. Fourteen states allow felons to vote after their prison terms are completed even while they remain on parole or probation.

Advocates who have been working with the Virginia governor say they are planning to fan out into Richmond communities Friday to start registering people.

Experts say with the stroke of his pen, Mr. McAuliffe has allowed convicted felons to begin registering to vote, and that their voting rights cannot be revoked — even if a new governor rescinds the order for future released prisoners.

But the move led to accusations that the governor was playing politics; he is a longtime friend of — and fund-raiser for — Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee for president, and former President Bill Clinton.

In the interview, Mr. McAuliffe said that he was not acting for political reasons, and that few people outside his immediate staff knew of his plan. He said he did not consult with Mrs. Clinton or her campaign before making the decision.

The executive order builds on steps the governor had already taken to restore voting rights to 18,000 Virginians since the beginning of his term, and he said he believed his authority to issue the decision was “ironclad.”
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Amy Chozick Apr-03-2016 308 0
Nicole Bell, whose fiancé, Sean Bell, became a symbol of tensions between black communities and the police after he was shot and killed by New York officers on the morning of their wedding day, has endorsed Hillary Clinton two weeks before the New York primary.

“Nine years ago, I lost my fiancé, Sean Bell, in a police-involved shooting, and unfortunately, there are too many families with stories like mine,” Ms. Bell said in a statement provided Saturday to The New York Times.

Mrs. Clinton, she said, “understands that we need reforms that can be felt on our streets and in our communities and that she “will stand up to the gun lobby, work to end racial profiling, and make key investments to ensure that law enforcement officials have adequate training.”

In 2006, plainclothes and undercover police officers fired into Mr. Bell’s car 50 times, killing him and wounding two of his friends; the men were leaving a strip club in Queens where Mr. Bell had celebrated his bachelor party. The shooting rocked the city and drew responses from civil rights activists and elected officials, including Mrs. Clinton, who was a senator representing New York at the time.

Mr. Bell and his friends were not armed. The three detectives charged in the shooting were acquitted on all counts. A judge ruled that based on conversations overheard around the club, the detectives had reason to believe that someone in the group was armed as Mr. Bell tried to drive away from the officers, at one point crashing into an unmarked police van. Still, the city paid $7 million in a settlement to Mr. Bell’s family and his two wounded friends. The detectives were forced out of the department.

The endorsement of Ms. Bell, who took her fiancé’s last name to honor his memory, comes as Mrs. Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders vie for the support of New York City’s black voters before the April 19 primary. Mrs. Clinton held a rally at the Apollo Theater on Wednesday, while Mr. Sanders addressed a crowd of more than 15,000 in the Bronx on Thursday, where the Brooklyn-born director Spike Lee spoke on his behalf.

In the first major policy speech of her campaign, Mrs. Clinton last spring called for an overhaul of the criminal justice system and an end to the “era of mass incarceration.” She has received broad support from mothers who have lost children to clashes with police or gun violence, and has held campaign events with the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Sandra Bland.

Mr. Sanders has received the endorsement of Mr. Garner’s daughter, Erica Garner, but he has had to catch up with Mrs. Clinton’s deep ties to African-American voters in New York, the Midwest and the South, who have tilted heavily to her.

“Hillary gets it,” Ms. Bell said. “Nine years ago, Hillary Clinton was there for me, and today, I’m with her.”
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reuters Apr-03-2016 347 0
Wednesday was another in an endless blur of Wednesdays at the Greenville federal prison in Southern Illinois. An inmate named Jesse Webster, serving a life sentence without parole for a nonviolent first offense, was poised to take a typing test, his fingers hovering over the keyboard — when his name resounded over the intercom.

Report immediately to the assistant warden’s office.

A longtime model inmate, Mr. Webster knew he was not in trouble, so maybe this was the call he had been dreaming of for years. Then again, the last time he was summoned to the office, a prison official heartily congratulated him — but only because he had been given the privilege to select the Christmas specialties to be sold in the commissary. He chose some smoked cheese and barbecue potato chips, and kept his crushing disappointment to himself.

This time, things were different. Soon his lawyer, Jessica Ring Amunson, was on speakerphone. She had toyed with making a joke about the commissary, but thought better of it.

“I have some wonderful news, Jesse,” Ms. Amunson said. “Your sentence has been commuted.”

Mr. Webster later said that he did not know quite how to respond. He had wanted this moment so badly for so long, but now, all he could muster was: “Wow.”

His plans now, he said, are to bequeath his possessions to other inmates, donate his collection of law books to the prison library, and work on plans for the future.

“Get a job,” he said. “Live life.”

Mr. Webster, who was featured in an article in The New York Times in December 2013, was one of 61 federal inmates, serving time for drug-related crimes, whose sentences were commuted by President Obama on Wednesday. It was the latest attempt by the president to use the power of his office to shorten the especially harsh sentences given to thousands of young men, most of them black or Hispanic, as a result of strict laws enacted during the so-called war on drugs a generation ago.

And Mr. Webster, now 48, was, in many ways, typical.

He grew up on the South Side of Chicago, one of seven children depending on a stepfather’s salary as a parking-lot attendant. A hustler by nature, Mr. Webster moved up in the world of illicit drugs, making a name and a lot of money as a freelance cocaine dealer. But when he heard in 1995 that law enforcement was looking for him, he turned himself in.

Declining an offer for leniency if he became a confidential informant against a ruthless drug gang — which had already killed an informant — he was convicted of participating in a drug conspiracy and filing false tax returns. He was sentenced to life without parole, a punishment that even the sentencing judge said was “too high.”

But federal judges had little leeway in the mid-1990s, when the emphasis in criminal justice was on mandatory sentencing. A sense of proportion — of exacting punishment that fit the crime — was lost.

Mr. Webster spent 16 years in maximum-security prisons, including Leavenworth, before earning a transfer to Greenville, a medium-security prison, in 2011. He dedicated his days to exercising, tutoring, taking classes, and reading the Bible. He kept in close contact with his family, including his mother, whose photograph he tucked into his bottom bunk’s ceiling.

Mr. Webster also continued to fight for leniency. In early 2013, his lawyer, Ms. Amunson, sent documents related to his case to the Office of the Pardon Attorney of the Justice Department. The packet included various letters appealing for clemency, as well as a letter from Mr. Webster addressed to Mr. Obama himself, which said in part that the president was his “final hope.”

More than two years passed. Then came the summoning of Mr. Webster to the assistant warden’s office, where Ms. Amunson told her client that his sentence had been commuted to expire in late September — although he is expected to go to a halfway house in Chicago before then — and that a $25,000 fine had been forgiven.

“Wow.”

In fact, Ms. Amunson said, Mr. Webster called her later in the day just to make sure that what he had been told was right. He also called his mother’s home in Chicago and asked to be put on speakerphone.

“Hey,” he recalled saying. “Guess what?”
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AP Mar-16-2016 296 0
President Barack Obama will nominate federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court on Wednesday, challenging Republicans to reject a long-time jurist and former prosecutor known as a consensus builder on what is often dubbed the nation's second-highest court.

Garland, 63, is the chief judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, a court whose influence over federal policy and national security matters has made it a proving ground for potential Supreme Court justices.

He would replace conservative, Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last month, leaving behind a bitter election-year fight over the future of the court.

The White House and members of Congress confirmed Obama's choice ahead of the president's 11 a.m. announcement in the White House Rose Garden.

White House officials said Obama believes Garland has a record of bipartisan support and was best poised to serve on the court immediately.

Garland was confirmed to the D.C. Circuit in 1997 with backing from a majority in both parties, including seven current Republicans senators.

Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Democratic leader called Garland's section, "a bipartisan choice," adding: "If the Republicans can't support him, who can they support?"

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who spoke to Obama Wednesday morning, said in brief remarks on the Senate floor that Republicans must act on the president's choice. "He's doing his job this morning, they should do theirs," said the Nevada Democrat.

If confirmed, Garland would be expected to align with the more liberal members, but he is not viewed as down-the-line liberal. Particularly on criminal defense and national security cases, he's earned a reputation as centrist, and one of the few Democratic-appointed judges Republicans might have a fast-tracked to confirmation — under other circumstances.

But in the current climate, Garland remains a tough sell. Republicans control the Senate, which must confirm any nominee, and GOP leaders want to leave the choice to the next president, denying Obama a chance to alter the ideological balance of the court before he leaves office next January. Republicans contend that a confirmation fight in an election year would be too politicized.

Ahead of Obama's announcement, the Republican Party set up a task force that will orchestrate attack ads, petitions and media outreach. The aim is to bolster Senate Republicans' strategy of denying consideration of Obama's nominee. The party's chairman, Reince Priebus, described it as the GOP's most comprehensive judicial response effort ever.

On the other side, Obama allies have been drafted to run a Democratic effort that will involve liberal groups that hope an Obama nominee could pull the high court's ideological balance to the left. The effort would target states where activists believe Republicans will feel political heat for opposing hearings once Obama announced his nominee.

For Obama, Garland represents a significant departure from his past two Supreme Court choices. In nominating Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, the president eagerly seized the chance to broaden the court's diversity and rebalance the overwhelming male institution. Sotomayor was the first Hispanic confirmed to the court, Kagan only the fourth woman.

Garland — a white, male jurist with an Ivy League pedigree and career spent largely in the upper echelon of the Washington's legal elite — breaks no barriers. At 63 years old, he would be the oldest Supreme Court nominee since Lewis Powell, who was 64 when he was confirmed in late 1971.

Presidents tend to appoint young judges with the hope they will shape the court's direction for as long as possible.

Those factors had, until now, made Garland something of a perpetual bridesmaid, repeatedly on Obama's Supreme Court lists, but never chosen.

But Garland found his moment at time when Democrats are seeking to apply maximum pressure on Republicans. A key part of their strategy is casting Republicans as knee-jerk obstructionists ready to shoot down a nominee that many in their own ranks once considered a consensus candidate. In 2010, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch called Garland "terrific" and said he could be confirmed "virtually unanimously."

The White House planned to highlight Hatch's past support, as well as other glowing comments about Garland from conservative groups.

A native of Chicago and graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, Garland clerked for two appointees of Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower — the liberal U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan Jr. and Judge Henry J. Friendly, for whom Chief Justice John Roberts also clerked.

In 1988, he gave up a plush partner's office in a powerhouse law firms to cut his teeth in criminal cases. As an assistant U.S. attorney, he joined the team prosecuting a Reagan White House aide charged with illegal lobbying and did early work on the drug case against then-D.C. Mayor Marion Barry. He held a top-ranking post in the Justice Department when he was dispatched to Oklahoma City the day after bombing at the federal courthouse to supervise the investigation. The case made his career and his reputation. He oversaw the convictions of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, and went on to supervise the investigation into Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.

President Bill Clinton first nominated him to the D.C. Circuit in 1995.

His prolonged confirmation process may prove to have prepared him for the one ahead. Garland waited 2½ years to win confirmation to the appeals court. Then, as now, one of the man blocking path was Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, argued he had no quarrel with Garland's credentials, but a beef with the notion of a Democratic president trying to fill a court he argued had too many seats.

Grassley ultimately relented, although he was not one of the 32 Republicans who voted in favor of Garland's confirmation. Nor was Sen. Mitch McConnell, the other major hurdle for Garland now. The Republicans who voted in favor of confirmation are Sen. Dan Coats, Sen. Thad Cochran, Sen. Susan Collins, Sen. Orrin Hatch, Sen. Jim Inhofe, Sen. John McCain, and Sen. Pat Roberts.
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