WASHINGTON (AP) — Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland praised lawyers for their work with low-income Washingtonians Thursday in his first public remarks since his nomination last month.
The appearance marks the first time that Garland has spoken publicly at any length since Obama nominated him more than a month ago in the White House Rose Garden.
His appearance Thursday was part of the White House's effort to familiarize the country with the nominee by having him speak on a noncontroversial topic, free legal assistance for the poor. Garland was on familiar turf, speaking at the federal courthouse in Washington, where he is chief judge of the appeals court.
Giving people living in poverty access to the courts is critical for society, Garland said. "Without equal justice under law," Garland said, using the phrase engraved above the entrance to the Supreme Court, "faith in the rule of the law, the foundation of our civil society, is at risk."
Garland's nomination is stalled in the Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said the next president should choose the replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
Obama and his aides have argued that once Americans got to know and trust the nominee, growing political pressure would eventually force Republicans to relent. The push started the day Garland was nominated, when the White House released a "Meet Merrick Garland" video about the nominee's life. The White House has also called attention to Garland's work tutoring elementary school children in Washington.
So far, the strategy hasn't worked. Garland has met with roughly 40 senators, with no sign that Republicans will allow hearings on his nomination, much less a vote.
At those meetings, Garland has typically said nothing for public consumption, save an occasional friendly greeting to the media assembled outside.
On Thursday, Garland met with two Democratic senators and Republican Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota, the 11th Senate Republican to meet with the nominee.
Like most of his GOP colleagues who have met with Garland, Hoeven said he respects the judge but will not support his confirmation.
"Ultimately, I must do what's best for our state, and based on his judicial record and our meeting today, I believe Judge Garland will make decisions counter to North Dakota's interests and I cannot support his confirmation," Hoeven said.
As the nomination fight unfolds in an election year, many Republican senators have maintained that they are hearing mostly support for McConnell's decision. But some polls have showed that many Americans would like to see hearings and a vote, even if Garland is not confirmed.
In New Hampshire, for example, a WMUR Granite State Poll released Wednesday showed that Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte's favorability ratings have dropped since February, when Scalia died and Republicans made the decision to block Obama's eventual pick for the Supreme Court. Ayotte is in a tight re-election race against New Hampshire's Democratic governor, Maggie Hassan.
The poll says 41 percent of New Hampshire adults have a favorable opinion of Ayotte, and suggests that the drop in numbers could be due to how closely people in New Hampshire are following the fight over Garland's nomination.
Associated Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick and Josh Lederman contributed to this report.