Obama to Senate on Supreme Court Nod: What Would the Founders Do?

President Obama answers questions at a news conference following the conclusion of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders summit at the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, Calif., on Feb. 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

President Obama said Congress won’t be living up to the ideals of the Founding Fathers unless the Senate brings his eventual Supreme Court nominee up for a vote.

Speaking to reporters at an ASEAN leaders summit in Rancho Mirage, Calif., today, Obama didn’t give clues as to the identity of his pick to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who was found dead at a Texas resort on Saturday.

Though Obama opened his press conference with remarks about Southeast Asian politics, the first question he received was about the looming Senate battle in regards to potential delay of his Supreme Court pick — as many lawmakers have already vowed to push the nomination into the next presidency.

“First of all, I want to reiterate heartfelt condolences to the Scalia family. Obviously, Justice Scalia and I had different political orientations and probably would have disagreed on the outcome of certain cases, but there is no doubt that he was a giant on the Supreme Court, helped to shape the legal landscape,” Obama said.

“…The Constitution is pretty clear about what is supposed to happen now. When there is a vacancy on the Supreme Court, the president of the United States is to nominate someone, the Senate is to consider that nomination and either they disapprove of that nominee or that nominee is elevated to the Supreme Court.”

Obama added that “historically, this has not been viewed as a question.”

“There’s no unwritten law that says it can only be done on off years. That’s not in the constitutional text. I’m amused when I hear people who claim to be strict interpreters of the Constitution suddenly reading into it a whole series of provisions that are not there,” he continued. “There is more than enough time for the Senate to consider in a thoughtful way the record of a nominee that I present and to make a decision.”

As far as a nominee, the president said he’s “going to present somebody who indisputably is qualified for the seat, and any fair-minded person, even somebody who disagreed with my politics, would say would serve with honor and integrity on the Court.”

He then railed against the “obstructionist” Senate for delaying federal judicial nominees. “The fact that it’s that hard that we’re even discussing this is I think a measure of how unfortunately the — the venom and rancor in Washington has prevented us from getting basic work done.”

“Now, this would be a good moment for us to rise above that,” Obama declared. “I understand the stakes. I understand the pressure that Republican senators are undoubtedly under. The fact of the matter is that what — the issue here is that the court is now divided on many issues. This would be a deciding vote. And there are a lot of Republican senators who are going to be under a lot of pressure from various special interests and various constituencies and many of their voters to not let any nominee go through, no matter who I nominate.”

“But that’s not how the system is supposed to work. That’s not how our democracy is supposed to work. And I intend to nominate in due time a very well qualified candidate. If we are following basic precedent, then that nominee will be presented before the committees. The vote will be taken and ultimately they’ll be confirmed… I intend to do my job between now and January 20th of 2017. I expect them to do their job as well.”

Asked if his remarks could be interpreted to mean he’ll nominate a moderate jurist, Obama quickly replied, “No.”

“You shouldn’t assume anything about the qualifications of the nominee other than they’re going to be well qualified,” he said.

Asked if he would take the step of a recess appointment if his nominee isn’t granted a hearing: “I think that we have more than enough time to go through regular order, regular processes. I intend to nominate somebody, to present them to the American people, to present them to the Senate. I expect them to hold hearings. I expect there to be a vote.”

When a reporter clarified that meant no recess appointment, the president responded, “Full stop.”

Obama brushed off his attempt to filibuster the nomination of Justice Sam Alito in 2006 because the justice is “on the bench right now.”

“We have to ask ourselves as a society a fundamental question: is — are we able to still make this democracy works the way it is supposed to, the way our Founders envisioned it? And I would challenge anyone who purports to be adhering to the original intent of the Founders, anybody who believes in the Constitution, coming up with a plausible rationale as to why they would not even have a hearing for a nominee made in accordance with the Constitution by the president of the United States with a year left practically in office,” he said. “It’s pretty hard to find that in the Constitution.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a senior Judiciary Committee member who has cast a vote on every sitting Supreme Court justice, told CNN this morning that “how the Democrats are crying and moaning and groaning, it’s highly hypocritical — because I remember when George W. Bush became president, they threw every roadblock they could for a year and a half, two years.”

“Yes, some got through, but it was very, very difficult, and Democrats led almost every fight against almost every judge,” Hatch recalled.

“So for them to talk like this when literally we’re in the middle of a voting campaign for president of the United States, and I think it just makes sense to put this off for the next president. And they may very well win. And if they do, they then have the right to appoint the judge. But they sure as heck don’t want to have a Republican do it.”

Hatch also noted that 40 percent “of the total federal judiciary has been confirmed for this president.”

“I think once the election is over and the Congress comes back into play and the Senate comes back into play, then I think it is important for the Senate to do its job. Right now, there is no need do that job in a very controversial political year,” Hatch continued.

“When I hear the Democrats complain about judges, look, they are the ones that really screwed up the whole process by knocking out one of the finest legal minds in the history of this country, Robert Bork, and then literally doing despicable things with regard to Clarence Thomas who has turned out to be a marvelous judge on the court. And I could go down through all kinds of other things where they want it all their way. And this says let’s be fair. Let’s have both sides have equal opportunity. Whoever is the president after this election, that president will have a chance to do this.”

The Senate is out this week for the Presidents Day recess.