By Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama returns on Thursday to the University of Chicago Law School where he once taught to make the case for his U.S. Supreme Court nominee, centrist appellate judge Merrick Garland.
The town hall event with students and faculty at 2:30 p.m. CDT (1930 GMT) is part of a White House campaign to try to pressure the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate to approve Garland, 63, who grew up in a Chicago suburb..
It is an uphill battle. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has insisted the next president, who will take office on Jan. 20 after the Nov. 8 election, should fill the vacancy created by the Feb. 13 death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.
If Garland were confirmed, he would tilt the Supreme Court to the left for the first time in decades. The court is now split 4-4 between conservatives and liberals.
So far, most Republican senators agree with McConnell. Only two of 54 Republican senators have said they think Garland deserves hearings and a vote.
Others have said they will meet with Garland privately for a "courtesy visit." That includes Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, who plans to have breakfast with Garland - but only to explain why he will not consider his nomination.
The White House wants to take the debate out of Washington. Opinion polls show a majority of Americans believe the Senate should vote on the nomination.
"The idea that they are not going to do their job just because Mitch McConnell told them not to, is not an explanation that is going to fly with their voters," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters on Wednesday.
Obama taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago for more than a decade before he entered politics. The town hall will include judges from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and other local judges, the White House said.
"The president looks forward to visiting the institution that helped shape his dedication to the rule of law, the role of the presidency and his fidelity to the Constitution," the White House said.
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Peter Cooney)