By Katie Reilly and Maya Rhodan
Updated: March 16, 2016 5:16 PM ET

President Obama nominated Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court Wednesday morning, making his choice to fill the seat left vacant after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

Obama praised Garland for earning the respect and admiration of Democrats and Republicans, alike, and painted a bleak picture for the future of democracy if his nomination is stalled by Senate Republicans who have vowed not to hold confirmation hearings for any nominee, arguing that the next president should be allowed to fill the seat.

“I’ve selected a nominee who is widely recognized not only as one of America’s sharpest legal minds, but someone who brings to his work a spirit of decency, honesty, integrity, even-handedness and excellence,” Obama said.

“To find someone with such a long care of public service marked by complex and sensitive issues, to find someone that just about everyone not only respects and genuinely likes — that is rare,” he said.

Garland, 63, currently serves as chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, a post he’s held since February 2013 after serving on the court since 1997. Early in his career, Garland clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan Jr.

“This is the greatest honor of my life,” Garland said, choking up as he took the podium after Obama. “Fidelity to the Constitution and the law has been the cornerstone of my professional life. It is the hallmark of the judge I have tried to be.”

In selecting a nominee, Obama said a Supreme Court justice should have “an independent mind, unimpeachable credentials, and an unquestionable mastery of law,” should recognize judiciary limits and should understand that justice is about life experience outside of a casebook, he said in an email Wednesday morning.

During his announcement, Obama praised Garland’s experience supervising the Oklahoma City bombing prosecution and spoke about how Garland graduated from Harvard Law after putting himself through school.

Even before making the appointment, Obama urged Senate leaders to do their job and act on a nomination. On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said an extended delay in the nomination process would represent an unprecedented level of obstruction.“There is absolutely no reason to wait for the lame duck for the Senate to fulfill their duty,” Earnest said. “ The only reason that Republicans have put forward is politics.” Earnest said the average time that a Supreme Court nominee has had to wait is 67 days.

As a centrist judge who has enjoyed bipartisan popularity, Garland’s appointment poses a challenge to Republicans looking to reject any nomination.

“[Obama] could easily name Merrick Garland, who is a fine man,” Republican Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch said on Friday, according to Newsmax. “He probably won’t do that because this appointment is about the election.”

In the interview, Hatch said he expected Obama would nominate someone who appeals more to liberal voters. Hatch is one of many Republican senators who have advocated for selecting a replacement after the presidential election, calling the current political climate “toxic.”

Nevertheless, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday that the Senate would not consider Garland’s nomination. “The Leader reiterated his position that the American people will have a voice in this vacancy and that the Senate will appropriately revisit the matter when it considers the qualifications of the person the next President nominates,” McConell’s office said in a statement.

Obama warned of what it will mean if Garland is not considered by the Senate.

“It will indicate a process for nominating and confirming judges that is beyond repair,” he said. “The reputation of the Supreme Court will inevitably suffer. Faith in our justice system will inevitably suffer. Our democracy will also suffer as well.”

The President’s Supreme Court pick was the result of an extensive search process that began almost immediately after Scalia’s death. White House officials said they reached out to every single member of the Senate and their respective teams in an effort to get their input on the potential nominee. Officials conducted over 100 calls with legal experts and outside groups to gain their perspective. They also did outreach with approximately 4,000 leaders in community organizations including civil rights, women’s, disability, labor, state and local lawmakers, and academics to get a good sense of who would be a qualified candidate for the job.

From those calls and consultations, the White House says it was able to prepare an extensive file of information the President spent a mid-February weekend consuming. From there the President continued posing questions and began setting up interviews with potential candidates, which the White House says the President conducted over the past week or so. Officials gave no details on the number of interviews conducted and did not say when the president made his final decision.

Early into the process, the President outlined the qualifications he was looking for in a potential Supreme Court nominee. In a post for SCOTUSblog, a closely watched Supreme Court news site, Obama said he wanted someone who was “eminently qualified” who “understands that the judiciaries role is to interpret the law, not make the law” and “ a keen understanding that justice is not about abstract legal theory.” Neil Eggleston, the White House counsel, said Chief Judge Merrick Garland meets every standard that the president set.

“There’s simply nobody better qualified than Merrick Garland to be a Supreme Court Justice,” Eggleston said Wednesday, noting he has more federal judicial experience than any Supreme Court nominee in history.

Write to Katie Reilly at Katie.Reilly@time.com.

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