In the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing, Merrick Garland said goodbye to his wife and young daughters and flew out to the scene of the worst act of domestic terrorism on U.S. soil.
As a supervisor with the Justice Department in 1995, Garland's job was to help put away accused bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. The voluminous investigation required that each scrap of evidence be correctly cataloged — and ensured that those behind the brutal deaths of 168 people, including young children, would be brought to justice.
"Perhaps most important is the way he did it," President Barack Obama said Wednesday in recounting Garland's efforts. Obama stood with Garland at the White House as he announced the veteran federal appeals judge as his pick to replace Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.
Obama nominates new Supreme Court justice:
Obama appoints new Supreme Court justice Merrick Garland
Who is Merrick Garland? Meet President Obama's nominee to the Supreme Court
FILE PHOTO -- U.S. President Barack Obama annnounces Judge Merrick Garland (R) of the United States Court of Appeals as his nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington March 16, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
Judge Merrick Garland, President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, meets with Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 25, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Judge Merrick Garland, President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, meets with Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) (unseen) on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 25, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 16: U.S. President Barack Obama and Judge Merrick Garland, the president's nominee to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, walk into the Rose Garden at the White House, March 16, 2016 in Washington, DC. Merrick currently serves on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and if confirmed by the US Senate, would replace Antonin Scalia who died suddenly last month. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 16: Judge Merrick Garland speaks after being introduced by U.S. President Barack Obama as his nominee to the Supreme Court in the Rose Garden at the White House, March 16, 2016 in Washington, DC. Garland currently serves as the chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and if confirmed by the US Senate, would replace the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia who died suddenly last month. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
U.S. President Barack Obama, left, shakes hands with Merrick Garland, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, following the announcement of his nomination for the Supreme Court in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, March 16, 2016. The nomination escalates a battle that will dominate the final 10 months of Obama's presidency, as the White House is locked in an unprecedented dispute with Senate Republican leaders who have pledged to ignore the president's choice. Photographer: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg via Getty Images
U.S. President Barack Obama, center, announces his nominee for the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, right, as Vice President Joseph 'Joe' Biden looks on in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, March 16, 2016. The nomination escalates a battle that will dominate the final 10 months of Obama's presidency, as the White House is locked in an unprecedented dispute with Senate Republican leaders who have pledged to ignore the president's choice. Photographer: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg via Getty Images
US President Barack Obama joins his Supreme Court nominee, federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland (L), during the nomination announcement the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, March 16, 2016.
Garland, 63, is currently Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The nomination sets the stage for an election-year showdown with Republicans who have made it clear they have no intention of holding hearings to vet any Supreme Court nominee put forward by the president. / AFP / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
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"When people offered to turn over evidence voluntarily, he refused," Obama continued, "taking the harder route of obtaining the proper subpoenas instead — because Merrick would take no chances that someone who murdered innocent Americans might go free on a technicality."
But the president said it was a simple gesture of Garland's that also showed a human side.
"Everywhere he went, he carried with him in his briefcase the program from the memorial service with each of the victims' names inside — a constant searing reminder of why he had to succeed," Obama said.
Garland's by-the-book application of the law has been lauded in other high-profile cases he has helped to supervise, including the case against "Unabomber" Ted Kaczynski in 1996.
Garland's robust credentials had often landed him on observers' lists of potential Supreme Court nominees. He was reportedly considered a top pick for the court in 2010 after Justice John Paul Stevens announced he would retire, although then-Solicitor General Elena Kagan was ultimately chosen.
But this year won't be an easy road to the nation's highest court. GOP senators have vowed to block whomever Obama nominates.
The president's selection of Garland could sway some Republicans drawn to his center-left views in a court that, with's Scalia death last month, lost one of its most vocal conservatives.
In 1997, Republican U.S. senator and Judiciary Committee member Orrin Hatch championed Garland's appointment to the federal appeals court, saying "his intelligence and his scholarship cannot be questioned."
Born in Chicago, Garland graduated in 1970 from Niles West High School in Skokie, Illinois.
"This is fantastic," Niles West Principal Jason Ness said when informed by NBC News that Garland was Obama's Supreme Court pick. "He's a great role model. We're all very proud."
Ness said Garland was "very involved in high school."
See reactions to Garland's nomination:
Twitter reaction to Merrick Garland's nomination
Who is Merrick Garland? Meet President Obama's nominee to the Supreme Court
This has never been about who the nominee is. It is about a basic principle. https://t.co/dGwHUBuLZw https://t.co/Z6nLdcuHWL
I commend @POTUS on his nomination of Chief Judge Merrick Garland as an associate justice on the Supreme Court. https://t.co/orbFiOZ7oL
Statement on President Obama's nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court: https://t.co/GTcLMLyS6I
Lame duck POTUS is doing us a disservice w/ attempt to tip balance of #SCOTUS in the 11th hr https://t.co/C4BhigPfES https://t.co/QDWz6o1ql4
.@SenateMajLdr McConnell comments on Supreme Court nomination is here: https://t.co/LvNozLmMQf
The American people are perfectly capable of having their say on the #SCOTUSnominee. So let’s give them a voice. https://t.co/8KyGZTuqoo
Merrick Garland is an outstanding choice for SCOTUS. A protector of civil rights and individual liberties. He MUST get a vote. #Doyourjob!
Judge Garland is fair-minded & independent, a consensus #SCOTUS nom who should be confirmed without controversy https://t.co/NjqMNmtBgk
.@POTUS has fulfilled his constitutional duty–now Senate Republicans must fulfill theirs #DoYourJob https://t.co/YOJIzyl37F
I will not vote for this nominee to the Supreme Court. (3/3)
"Today, I am nominating Chief Judge Merrick Brian Garland to join the Supreme Court." —@POTUS #SCOTUSnominee https://t.co/ak7vqV9sCM
Obama introduces Merrick Garland to Americans: He was born and raised in the Land of Lincoln https://t.co/OdbwLwokxG https://t.co/cpoisYPr2z
"He led the investigation and supervised the prosecution that brought Timothy McVeigh to justice." —@POTUS on Merrick Garland #SCOTUSnominee
"Merrick Garland would take no chances that someone who murdered innocent Americans might go free on a technicality." —@POTUS #SCOTUSnominee
Now, @POTUS has done his job — it's time for Senate GOP to do theirs. We must give Judge Garland the hearings & consideration he deserves.
.@scotusnom Merrick Garland is a thoughtful jurist with impeccable credentials; if he can't get bipartisan support no one can. #DoYourJob
There's never been a #SCOTUSnominee w/ more fed. judicial experience than @SCOTUSnom Judge Garland. #DoYourJob Senate & give him a hearing.
Congratulations to #SCOTUSnominee Merrick Garland, HLS class of 1977 https://t.co/cpm9i82i8Q
Now, all one hundred members of the Senate must do our jobs by providing advice and consent on the President’s #SCOTUSnominee
I will oppose any hearing or votes for President Obama's nominee to the Supreme Court.
Leaders must listen to the voices of our people before allowing ambition and partisan politics to consume our democracy. #DoYourJob #SCOTUS
As I have said before, the Senate should not confirm a new Supreme Court justice until a new president is elected.
Hatch this morning: "It's not about the individual. It's about protecting the integrity of the Court." #SCOTUS https://t.co/yRcj1Kemd8
Judge Merrick Garland deserves a full and fair hearing and a clear, speedy, public vote from the U.S. Senate.
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Among other things, Garland was president of both the National Honor Society and Student Council, belonged to the debate team, the forensics team and the German Club. He also performed in high school musicals like "Guys and Dolls" and "Pygmalion."
"There were not enough hours in the day for him to do everything he did while in high school," Ness said.
In terms of his views, Garland would not be among the court's most liberal justices, SCOTUSblog publisher Tom Goldstein wrote in a recent post. When his name came up in 2010, some liberal activists opposed the potential pick, calling Garland a centrist and citing his ruling in a case involving Guantanamo detainees, The Washington Post reported at the time.
In 2003, Garland agreed with conservative judges against Kuwaiti detainees at the military prison who tried to challenge their confinement by citing a lack of evidence, the newspaper said.
Garland, when he was first nominated to the appeals court, said a judge's responsibility isn't to legislate in response to a question about judicial activism. He said federal judges "do not have roving commissions to solve societal problems," according to SCOTUSblog.
Garland is a graduate of Harvard Law School and clerked for Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan before gigs at the Justice Department as deputy assistant attorney general for the criminal division and principal associate deputy attorney general.
His background made him popular even with Republicans when he was first nominated to the D.C. Circuit by President Bill Clinton in 1995, but the full Senate didn't initially act on his nomination.
The issue wasn't Garland, Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley said at the time, but whether the court needed another judge at all. Grassley is now the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which would oversee any hearings on a nominee.
Garland won appointment to the federal appeals court in D.C. in 1997 by a Senate vote of 76-23 — although again, any opposition to his nomination wasn't about his qualifications.
At the time, Hatch, who still sits on the Judiciary Committee, cited his work as a federal prosecutor and judicial credentials.
"I believe he is not only a fine nominee, but is as good as Republicans can expect from this (the Clinton) administration. In fact, I would place him at the top of the list," Hatch said at the time, according to Congressional records.
Seven Republicans who voted for Garland are still in the Senate. In 2013, he was was appointed the D.C. Circuit's chief justice.
As a judge, Garland said Wednesday, "fidelity to the law" has always been a cornerstone to how he rules.
"People must be confident that a judge's decisions are determined by the law and only the law. For a judge to be worthy of such trust, he or she must be faithful to the Constitution and to the statutes passed by the Congress," he added. "He or she must put aside his personal views or preferences and follow the law — not make it."
If confirmed, Garland would also be the fourth Jewish justice currently on the Supreme Court. The other five members are Catholic.