US President Barack Obama said he planned to nominate a new Supreme Court justice after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, a step promising to be another partisan jockeying with Republican rivals.
“Today is a time to remember Justice Scalia’s legacy. I plan to fulfill my constitutional responsibility to nominate a successor in due time,” Xinhua news agency quoted Obama as saying on Saturday.
“There will be plenty of time for me to do so and for the Senate to fulfill its responsibility to give that person a full hearing and timely vote.”
According to the ocal media, Scalia died in his sleep during his trip to Texas. The cause of his death was not available at the moment, but early reports suggested that he apparently died of natural causes.
The first Italian-American to sit on the country’s highest court, Scalia, 79, was the leading conservative voice on the court and his death was expected to set off a prolonged fight over who would succeed him.
Shortly after the news of Scalia’s death, Senate Majority Leader Republican Mitch McConnell, who sets the Senate schedule for confirmation of the Supreme Court nominations, said Scalia should not be replaced till after the presidential election.
“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice,” said McConnell in a statement. “Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled till we have a new President.”
Calling it “unprecedented” for the Supreme Court to go a year with a vacant seat, Senate Minority Leader Democrat Harry Reid blasted McConnell’s suggestion as “a shameful abdication of one of the Senate’s most essential Constitutional responsibilities”.
With the absence of Justice Scalia, a former lynchpin of a conservative majority of the Supreme Court, the eight remaining justices are evenly divided, a fact which could change the ruling on contentious issues, including Obama’s Clean Power Plan and executive actions on immigration.
The last time a major shift in the country’s highest court’s makeup occurred was in 1991 when former US President George H.W. Bush nominated conservative Justice Clarence Thomas to succeed liberal Justice Thurgood Marshall. Since then, a five-conservative majority in the the Supreme Court has held steady.