Obama: Will 'do my job' to choose Scalia successor

Pres. Obama: I will nominate a very qualified Supreme Court candidate

President Barack Obama reiterated Tuesday his plans to nominate a successor to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in "due time," taking swipes at Republican lawmakers who have argued that he should not name the judge during his final year in office.

Scalia, who was 79, was found dead in Texas on Saturday, leaving a vacancy on the top U.S. court. Obama's nominee to replace him could potentially tip the court's ideological balance to the left, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, has said the vacancy "should not be filled until we have a new president." The Senate is responsible for confirming the president's judicial appointments.

"The Constitution is pretty clear about what's 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," Obama said from a news conference following a summit with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Rancho Mirage, California.

"Historically, this has not been viewed as a question."

President Barack Obama speaks at a news conference after the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Rancho Mirage, California, on Feb. 16, 2016.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

Obama did not give any hints about whom he would nominate, but said he would choose a "well-qualified candidate." However, he noted that Americans should not assume he would choose a moderate because the nominee would be more likely to receive Senate approval.

Republican senators and GOP presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, among others in the Senate, have criticized Obama's plan to nominate a successor this year. In recent years, lawmakers have delayed several Obama nominees amid political wrangling.

"The fact that it's that hard, that we're even discussing this, is a measure of how, unfortunately, the venom and rancor in Washington has prevented us from getting work done," Obama said.

"I intend to do my job between now and Jan. 20 of 2017, and I expect them to do their job."

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He admitted that he understood Republican senators would face "a lot of pressure" from their constituents and the party.

Obama cited the precedent of current Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was nominated by President Ronald Reagan late in his penultimate year in office and confirmed in his final year. However, Obama and Senate Democrats have faced some criticism for efforts to filibuster the confirmation of Justice Samuel Alito, who was nominated in 2005.

Scalia, an influential conservative known for his colorful opinions, was nominated in 1986. He and Obama often disagreed, including on key administration victories for the Affordable Care Act and same-sex marriage.