WASHINGTON (WLS) --President Barack Obama returned Thursday afternoon to the University of Chicago Law School for a town hall about his stalled nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court
After meeting with a group of students, he took the stage shortly after 2:30 p.m. to talk to a larger audience to argue his case for why the Senate should give Garland a seat on the nation's most powerful court.
"He is as good of a judge as we have in this country right now," Pres. Obama told the assembled students.
The audience was filled with dignitaries, including U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
Returning to the institution where he once taught constitutional law, Obama used the university as a bully pulpit to push Garland's nomination.
"No one has plausibly made an argument that this is not the kind of person we'd want on the Supreme Court. The question then becomes why is it so hard for the guy to just get a hearing, and a vote?" he said.
The president said Republicans, who hold the senate majority, are threatening the "institutional integrity" of the judicial system by vowing not to consider a nominee until after the next president is inaugurated. Former White House advisor David Axelrod called it a risky move by Republicans who could lose their majority in the fall.
"There is a strong level of support from among independent voters, swing voters, for hearings, for a vote on the justice, and so I think there will be ramifications for the Republicans in these particular races if no action is taken," Axelrod said.
"Biden did it to George Bush so what's more disrespectful? I get tired of Democrats making differences and using that 'grey area' to their advantage," said conservative internet talk show host Charles Butler.
Vice President Joe Biden, as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman in 1992, said hypothetically the chamber should not consider an election year nominee of then-president George H.W. Bush. The Senate has never refused to confirm a Supreme Court judge during an election year before.
President Obama, Congressional Democrats, and even Illinois Republican Senator Mark Kirk have all argued that the Senate's constitutional duty to hold hearings and vote on a Supreme Court appointee are not subject to exceptions during an election year.
The president took questions from law students during the town hall on a variety of topics including national security, partisan politics, criminal justice reform and drones. President Obama said he wished he could have designed "a more elegant" healthcare reform than Obamacare. He repeated his claim that the criminal justice system is flawed, and defended the military's use of drones that sometimes kill civilians in the war on terrorism.
"I have to make decisions because there are folks out there who are genuinely trying to kill us," he said."
Amelia Garza-Mattia was the first selected to ask a question.
"I was a little nervous," she says, "but I did it. I put my hand up."
"I was asking what diverse characteristics Judge Garland might bring to the Supreme Court, and I think that he gave a thoughtful answer the way that we think about building diversity in the judiciary and in institutions in the United States in general," said student Maggie Upshaw.
Obama was joined by a former law school colleague, Professor David Strauss. The town hall lasted about just under 90 minutes.
Only 110 law students were lucky enough to attend the hall, getting their seats through a lottery. Students who asked questions were chosen randomly, the school says. Before the town hall, the president made a surprise visit to a group of students who had not gotten seats out of the lottery and had assembled elsewhere on campus to watch the town hall via satellite.
President Obama told students that he may come back someday to teach a seminar once a week, but he promised he would not grade any papers.
Obama chose Garland, a Chicago native and chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, to fill the seat left empty by the February death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.
Most GOP senators, including McConnell, have said they will not meet with Garland. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley has invited the judge to meet over breakfast on Tuesday.
From Chicago, Obama was to head to California to raise campaign cash for his fellow Democrats at events through late Friday.
He was headlining a House Democratic fundraiser Thursday night at the Los Angeles home of Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn. House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, was among those scheduled to attend the soiree, where tickets cost $33,400 per couple, officials said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.