President Barack Obama slammed Senate Republicans for their plan to block his constitutional right to select a nominee to replace Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (video below).
Scalia, a staunch conservative, died on Feb. 13, leaving a seat in the U.S. Supreme Court vacant.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and his fellow Republicans have called for no replacement to be appointed until the next president comes into office.
While there has been an unofficial precedent that presidents do not appoint new lifetime Supreme Court justices in the last six months of their second term, Obama has nearly a full year left in the White House.
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On Feb. 16, the president held a news conference in California to discuss the results of a summit he had held with Southeast Asian nations. Reporters on the scene only had questions about the unfolding battle to replace Scalia, USA Today reports.
“The Constitution is pretty clear about what is supposed to happen now,” Obama said, reiterating that presidents have always had the right to appoint new Supreme Court justices.
“Historically, this has not been viewed as a question,” the president continued. “There’s no unwritten law that says it can only be done on 'off years'… I’m amused when I hear people who claim to be strict interpreters of the Constitution suddenly reading into it suddenly reading into it a whole series of provisions that are not there.”
Obama then acknowledged that Scalia’s replacement would become a deciding vote for the Supreme Court, which is now ideologically split 50-50.
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“I understand the pressure the stakes … 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,” Obama said. “But that's not how the system is supposed to work."
The president added that there are plenty of months left for Senate Republicans to reconsider and allow him to nominate a new justice.
Former Democratic Gov. Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts, who was the Democratic nominee for president in 1988, weighed in on the dispute during a Feb. 16 interview with Slate.
“This is pure politics,” Dukakis said of the GOP’s efforts to delay a nomination. “It is nothing else. It is the height of hypocrisy. It’s ridiculous!”
Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who was the “maverick” GOP nominee in the 2008 presidential election, has joined his party's stance.
“I believe that we should wait until after the next election and let the American people pick the next president, and we should consider who the next president of the U.S. nominates,” McCain said, according to The Huffington Post.