Obama's Views on Antonin Scalia—and the Justice's Successor

The president called the late Supreme Court justice, who died Saturday, a “brilliant legal mind,” and said he plans to name a successor—likely setting up a fight with Senate Republicans.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

President Obama called Justice Antonin Scalia, who died suddenly on Saturday at the age of 79, a “brilliant legal mind with an energetic style, incisive wit, and colorful opinions,” and said he intends to fulfill his constitutional responsibility and nominate a successor in due time.

“He influenced a generation of judges, lawyers, and, students, and profoundly shaped the legal landscape,” Obama said of Scalia. “He will no doubt be remembered as one of the most consequential judges and thinkers to serve on the Supreme Court.”

And, the president added: “Obviously, today is the time to remember Justice Scalia’s legacy. I plan to fulfill my constitutional responsibilities to nominate a successor in due time. 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 timely vote.”

The president’s remarks cap the partisan debate that erupted almost as soon as news of the conservative justice’s death broke. Republicans fear that an Obama nominee to replace Scalia, who was nominated by President Reagan, would tilt the balance of the Supreme Court, which has four reliably conservative justices, four liberals, and one swing vote. Democrats hope an Obama appointment achieves precisely that.

Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, said the vacancy on the Supreme Court created by Scalia’s death should be filled by the next president. Harry Reid, the Senate minority leader, urged Obama to “send the Senate a nominee right away.”

Presidential candidates from both parties weighed in as well

Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, both Republican candidates for the presidency, called for the next president to choose Scalia’s replacement on the Supreme Court. Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate, said those who call to keep the seat vacant until after the next president is sworn “dishonor our Constitution.”

Obama’s remarks Saturday set up a prolonged fight with Republicans that, as my colleague Russell Berman reported, will play out both on  Capitol Hill and on the campaign trail.