Merrick Garland
Chief Judge Merrick Garland of the United States Court of Appeals has been nominated to fill the vacancy in the Supreme CourtReuters

The nomination of Chief Judge Merrick Garland to the US Supreme Court will divide Washington and meet considerable resistance from the Republican wing of the Senate. Adding to the politically-charged atmosphere of Barack Obama's nomination is the fact that it comes amid a tightly fought primaries campaign and an election in November.

Born in Chicago, Garland graduated in 1977 from Harvard Law School with the highest honour or "magna cum laude". He moved away from more lucrative private law, towards public prosecution and has spent 19 years on the DC Circuit, considered the second most powerful court in the land.

His record

Despite fears among many Republicans about any appointment of a liberal this close to an election, Thinkprogess.org actually considers Garland a moderate, although his record suggests he would not join the right-leaning side of the court. The website pointed out that he would: "likely vote much more often than not with the Supreme Court's liberals, while occasionally casting a heterodox vote".

In 2003, Garland backed the opinion that meant Guantanamo Bay prisoners could not seek relief in civilian courts. Also, he has a conservative record on criminal justice with SCOTUSBlog pointing out that he rarely votes in favour of criminal defendants' appeals to overturn their convictions.

"Judge Garland's record demonstrates that he is essentially the model, neutral judge. He is acknowledged by all to be brilliant. His opinions avoid unnecessary, sweeping pronouncements," the blog observed.

He has also made relatively few decisions on controversial issues such as LGBT and abortion rights, Vox reported, although Republicans have in the past condemned him for wanting a retrial of the DC v Heller case which struck down a ban on handguns. That position suggested that he may be in favour of restrictions on firearms, a sore point for many Republicans. He has been criticised by the right-wing activist Carrie Severino for having a "liberal view of gun rights".

Age could be a factor

At 63, he is the oldest nominee to the Supreme Court since Richard Nixon named Justice Lewis Powell in 1971. Even though Senate Republicans have vowed not to even consider an Obama Supreme Court nominee, his age could sway them around, especially as it means they could tolerate a more moderate candidate who was not going to be around for as long as his predecessor, Justice Antonin Scalia who died in February.

The downside for the Democrats is that Garland is a white male who is unlikely to attract any of the demographic that the party would like to appeal to in the presidential elections in November. He was considered by the Obama administration on two prior occasions and was a runner-up in 2009 and 2010 when he lost out to Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan respectively. The second time, he had the backing of The New York magazine when he was in the running to succeed a retiring John Paul Stevens.

His notable achievements include securing a large amount of evidence that led to the convictions of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that killed 169 people. He also played a key role in the prosecution of the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.