President Barack Obama on Tuesday challenged Republicans to offer any plausible rationale for refusing to consider a Supreme Court candidate to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last weekend, and he pledged to nominate someone with an “outstanding legal mind” who cares about democracy and the rule of law.
“The Constitution is pretty clear about what is supposed to happen now,” Obama said during a news conference after a meeting in California with leaders of Southeast Asia. He said the Constitution demands that a president nominate someone for the court and the Senate either confirms or rejects.
“There’s no unwritten law that says that it can only be done on off years,” Obama said. “That’s not in the constitutional text.”
Obama said he understood the political stakes of a nomination that could change the balance on the court. “I understand the pressure that Republican senators are now under,” he said. “This would be a deciding vote.”
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But the president said the Supreme Court ought to be above political gamesmanship. “This will be a test of whether rules, norms and fair play can function at all in Washington,” he said.
Obama’s remarks were his first extensive public reaction to the roiling political forces unleashed by the death of Justice Scalia. He reiterated his intention to nominate a successor and called on the Senate to give that person a hearing, followed by a timely vote.
“The Constitution is pretty clear about what is supposed to happen,” Obama said. “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. Either they disapprove of that nominee or that nominee is elevated to the Supreme Court.”
Obama made his comments shortly after Sen. Charles E. Grassley, an Iowa Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that he had not ruled out holding hearings on Obama’s eventual nominee to replace Scalia on the Supreme Court.
“I would wait until the nominee is made before I would make any decisions,” Grassley said, according to Radio Iowa. “This is a very serious position to fill, and it should be filled and debated during the campaign and filled by either Hillary Clinton, Sen. Sanders or whoever’s nominated by the Republicans.”
The remarks seemed to be a step back from Grassley’s statement Saturday, in which he concurred with Sen. Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, and several other Republican senators, who said the vacancy ought to be filled by the next president.
“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 in a statement Saturday, after Scalia’s death was revealed.