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Obama says Constitution 'clear' that he should choose Supreme Court justice to replace Scalia

"It's pretty hard to find that in the Constitution," Obama said of Republicans' desire to leave vacant Antonin Scalia's Supreme Court seat for a year so the next president can fill it.
By Doug G. Ware   |   Updated Feb. 16, 2016 at 10:19 PM

WASHINGTON, Feb. 16 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama said Tuesday that while he understands Republicans' dismay at the thought of him nominating another Supreme Court justice before he leaves office in January, the U.S. Constitution states very clearly that he should do so.

The president stated that position during a visit to Rancho Mirage, Calif., on Tuesday, where he attended meetings with leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

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Since Saturday, many high-profile Republicans have publicly stated that Obama should let the next president nominate a replacement for Antonin Scalia, who died over the weekend at the age of 79.

Obama has already said, however, that he doesn't intend to leave it up to his successor.

"The Constitution is pretty clear about what is supposed to happen now," he said Tuesday, adding that the landmark historical document demands that a president nominate justices immediately, as-needed.

"I would challenge anyone who purports to be adhering to the original intent of the founders, anybody who believes in the Constitution, to come up with a plausible rationale as to why they would not even have a [Senate confirmation] hearing for a nominee made in accordance with the Constitution by the President of the United States with a year left, practically, in office," Obama continued. "It's pretty hard to find that in the Constitution."

If Republicans, or any opponents, are dissatisfied with his selection, Obama said they will have an opportunity to reject it in the Senate -- which must approve all Supreme Court nominees, anyway.

Some Republicans, though, have indicated the party-controlled Senate may not give an Obama nominee a confirmation hearing if the president does go ahead with an appointment to replace Scalia.

"The Senate needs to stand up and say: we're not going to give up the U.S. Supreme Court for a generation by allowing Obama to appoint another liberal justice," Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz said last weekend.

One oft-repeated reason for waiting on the nomination, according to some Republicans, is to allow the American people to have some say in the matter after they choose their next president.

Obama, though, said Republicans' desire for him to leave the vacancy open for a year is nothing more than political strategy.

"This has become just one more extension of politics. And there are times where [elected officials] are in the Senate and they are thinking ... primarily about, 'Is this going to cause me problems in a primary? Is this going to cause me problems with supporters of mine?'" he said. "Some people make strategic decisions, I understand that. ... [but] the Supreme Court is different."

During the remarks, which were Obama's first extensive comments on the matter since Scalia's death, he contended that the Senate's lack of cooperation hasn't been limited to the Supreme Court. It has persisted for years, he said, when it has come to confirming other nominations by his administration.

"This will be a test, one more test, of whether or not norms, rules, basic fair play can function at all in Washington these days."

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has indicated that holding a confirmation hearing for an Obama nominee is not off the table.

"I would wait until the nominee is made before I would make any decisions," he told Radio Iowa. "This is a very serious position to fill and it should be filled and debated during the campaign."

Grassley's words Tuesday may seem like a departure from remarks he made Saturday, when he agreed with multiple GOP leaders that the next president -- not Obama -- should make the nomination.

During his seven years in office, Obama has successfully appointed two judges to the Supreme Court -- Sonia Sotomayor in 2009 and Elena Kagan in 2010.

The last time a president successfully appointed three justices to the high court came during Ronald Reagan's administration with the nominations of Sandra Day O'Connor (1981), Scalia (1986) and Anthony Kennedy (1988).

Reagan also made two consecutive unsuccessful nominations in 1987 -- Robert Bork and Douglas Ginsburg -- for a seat that ultimately went to Kennedy.

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