This time, things were different. Since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia last month, many key liberal interest groups decided to remain silent and work toward the larger goal of making sure that Obama's candidate -- any candidate -- got a hearing. There were countless meetings at the White House and conference calls. There was also unprecedented discipline to stay on message and refrain from pushing certain constituencies. Last week the the National Council of of Asian Pacific Americans summed up the game plan in one post: "The President's Supreme Court nominee -- whoever it is -- deserves fair and prompt consideration."
As such when Garland's name emerged, the NAACP LDF was quick to issue a statement congratulating him. The American Constitution Society's Caroline Fredrickson said he was "impeccably qualified to serve."
But there are definitely liberals disappointed with Obama's pick of Merrick Garland.
It's not that they don't like him: Across the board from the early days he was on the top of almost every progressive's wish list. But it's that progressives were hoping for something different. The Supreme Court already has several Harvard Law graduates and Jewish justices, they note.
The President had the opportunity to name the first African American woman. Ketanji Brown Jackson, who was on some short lists. As a federal district court judge she was probably too green. But she ignited enthusiasm and hope in some quarters.
Obama could could also have nominated the first Asian American justice in Sri Srinivasan. CNN even spoke to a distant relative of Srinivasan who hails from a small village called Mela Thiruvengadanathapuram. His relatives were prepared to hold a big prayer if Srinivasan had been the pick. "We are all praying to God for his promotion," said Murali Srinivasan, a priest at the main Hindu temple of the village. But it wasn't to be.
Sitting in the White House Rose Garden and hearing that Garland had gotten the nod, there was also the slightest, fleeting feeling of wind being let out of the balloon, some activists said. Ever so slightly. One liberal activist at the White House noted on background: "The president missed an opportunity to make history."
Charles Chamberlain, executive director of Democracy for America, noted that his group had secured more than 135,000 signatures urging the president to nominate a progressive justice.
"President Obama missed the opportunity to solidify his legacy by appointing a true progressive to the Supreme Court, " wrote Kurt Walters of the group Demand Progress.
The National Organization of Women did say that Garland possesses "rigorous intellect, impeccable credentials, and a record of excellence." But Terry O'Neill, the group's president, lamented that his record pertaining to women's rights are "more or less a blank slate."
After the Garland announcement, press spokesman Josh Earnest was asked about a segment of the country that was hopeful the President might nominee someone who could have filled the shoes of the legendary Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court justice. Earnest was ready for the question: He noted that the President had made a commitment to ensure that the federal bench was as diverse as the rest of the country and had appointed the third and fourth female Supreme Court justices, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, as well as 117 minorities to the federal judiciary.
But Judge Paul Watford was a runner-up for Scalia's seat. He would have been the third African American on the bench. He also could have given the first African American President the chance to take make more history.
A New York Times story last week detailed how African Americans felt sad Obama would leave office soon. "They won't allow us to have the reins again," said Russell Singleton who grew up on the South Side of Chicago. "I don't think I'll see another black president in my lifetime and I'll say in the younger generation's lifetime," he added.
Deborah Pearlstein, a professor at Cardozo School of Law summed it up this way. "Garland is a moderate, careful jurist with a broad, bipartisan array of admirers." She called him "unassailably qualified, and at the same time a strategically clever choice."