U.S. President Barack Obama will not hurry to nominate a successor to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died Saturday, the White House said Sunday.
The president “takes his constitutional responsibility seriously and will approach this nomination with the time and rigor required,” Deputy White House press secretary Eric Schultz said in a statement.
Instead, the president would do so after the Senate returns from its recess Feb. 22. “At that point, we expect the Senate to consider that nominee, consistent with their responsibilities laid out in the United States Constitution,” Schultz added.
Scalia, a conservative who served for three decades as a Supreme Court justice, died Saturday at a resort in West Texas at the age of 79. The cause of death was later determined to be a heart attack. An autopsy was not performed, according to his family’s wishes, the Washington Post reported.
The news of Scalia’s death set off speculation over not only who his successor would be but also the politicking that might ensue in the process of appointing that successor during a presidential election year. The death of the justice leaves the Supreme Court evenly split between four liberals and four conservatives ahead of a season of hearing cases on hot-button issues including abortion and immigration.
Republicans quickly swore to block any nomination by Obama until after the November elections. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, said that the coming administration should decide.
“This vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, countered, “The President can and should send the Senate a nominee right away.” He added, "Failing to fill this vacancy would be a shameful abdication of one of the Senate’s most essential Constitutional responsibilities.”