Responding to the untimely passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, President Barack Obama declared that he will nominate a successor, breaking a nearly 100-year tradition. Both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republican presidential candidates have encouraged him to wait for the next president, who will be elected this November.
“I plan to fulfill one of my constitutional responsibilities to nominate a successor, in due time,” Obama declared in a statement Saturday evening. “There will be plenty of time for me to do so and for the Senate to fulfill its responsibility to give that person a fair hearing and a timely vote.” Obama emphasized, “These are responsibilities that I take seriously and so should everyone— they are bigger than any one party, they are about our democracy.”
No lame duck president has nominated a Supreme Court justice in an election year for eighty years, a fact which both Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Texas Senator Ted Cruz mentioned in the Republican presidential debate Saturday evening.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R, Iowa) said that “it’s been standard practice over the last 80 years to not confirm Supreme Court nominees during a presidential election year.”
“Given the huge divide in the country, and the fact that this president, above all others, has made no bones about his goal to use the courts to circumvent Congress and push through his own agenda, it only makes sense that we defer to the American people who will elect a new president to select the next Supreme Court Justice,” Grassley said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R, Ky.) agreed, saying “the American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President.” McConnell did not promise to block Obama’s nominees, however.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D, Nev.) disagreed. “With so many important issues pending before the Supreme Court, the Senate has a responsibility to fill vacancies as soon as possible,” Reid said in a statement. “It would be unprecedented in recent history for the Supreme Court to go a year with a vacant seat. Failing to fill this vacancy would be a shameful abdication of one of the Senate’s most essential Constitutional responsibilities.”
The Scalia replacement became an issue in the Republican presidential debate Saturday night as well. Ohio Governor John Kasich declared, “I really wish the president would think about not nominating somebody,” because, “we ought to let the next president of the United States decide.”
Rubio echoed Grassley, saying, “It’s been over eighty years since a lame duck president has nominated a justice to the Supreme Court.” Cruz concurred: “We have eighty years of precedent of not confirming Supreme Court justices in an election year.” The Texas senator later clarified that no president has “nominated” a justice in an election year, while Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy was “confirmed” by the Senate in an election year.
Obama and the Republicans agreed on one thing, however. They all paid homage to Scalia as an influential public servant. Even Obama called him “a larger than life presence on the bench, a brilliant legal mind with energetic style, incisive wit, and colorful opinions.”
In what conservatives may see as a moment of irony, Obama paid respect to Scalia for dedicating “his life to a cornerstone of our democracy—the Rule of Law.”
Justice Scalia was an American hero. We owe it to him, & the Nation, for the Senate to ensure that the next President names his replacement.
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) February 13, 2016