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Obama Remembers Scalia As 'Consequential,' Vows To Appoint Replacement

President Obama speaks to reporters about the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia at Omni Rancho Las Palmas in Rancho Mirage, Calif., Saturday.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais
President Obama speaks to reporters about the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia at Omni Rancho Las Palmas in Rancho Mirage, Calif., Saturday.

President Obama struck a somber tone, remembering the late-Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia as a "towering legal mind" who influenced a generation, but made it clear, he intends to replace him.

"I plan to fulfill my constitutional responsibilities to nominate a successor in — due time," Obama said. "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, who spoke for just a few minutes, praised Scalia and said it was a day to remember Scalia's "remarkable" life. But make no mistake, Obama's comments about naming a replacement were aimed squarely at Senate Republicans who have already said a replacement should not come until a new president is elected.

"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," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

The majority leader sets the agenda in the Senate.

"The fact of the matter is that it's been standard practice over the last nearly 80 years that Supreme Court nominees are not nominated and confirmed during a presidential election year," said Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which would have to vote to confirm a nominee. "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's statement originally said it was "standard practice" over the last 80 years to not confirm a Supreme Court nominee during a presidential year. But Justice Anthony Kennedy was confirmed in February 1988 by a 97-to-0 vote. He was nominated in November 1987.

Obama said making an appointment and giving that appointment a speedy vote was important for a functioning democracy.

"These are responsibilities that I take seriously, as should everyone," the president said. "They're bigger than any one party. They are about our democracy. They're about the institution to which Justice Scalia dedicated his professional life and making sure it continues to function as the beacon of justice that our founders envisioned."

UPDATE: President Obama spoke with Scalia's son, Eugene, per the White House. He passed "along condolences to the entire Scalia family on the passing of his father. The President extended his sympathies on behalf of the First Family and the country," said White House spokesman Eric Schultz.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.