RANCHO MIRAGE, CALIFORNIA/WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama will not rush through a Supreme Court choice to replace Justice Antonin Scalia this week but will wait to nominate a candidate until the U.S. Senate is back in session, the White House said on Sunday.
“Given that the Senate is currently in recess, we don’t expect the president to rush this through this week, but instead will do so in due time once the Senate returns from their recess,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said.
“At that point, we expect the Senate to consider that nominee, consistent with their responsibilities laid out in the United States Constitution,” he said.
Obama is traveling in California and returns to Washington on Tuesday. The Senate returns from recess on Feb. 22.
Making a recess appointment would have been extremely controversial.
The White House declined to give a more specific timeline for Obama to announce his nominee.
For his previous two Supreme Court picks, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, the president took about 30 days each to announce his selection after their predecessors, Justice John Paul Stevens and Justice David Souter, respectively, said they planned to step down.
In remarks honoring Scalia on Saturday, Obama made clear he would not succumb to pressure from Republicans to leave the selection of a new justice to his successor.
The president, who leaves office in January 2017, said he would make his choice in due time.
“These are responsibilities that I take seriously, as should everyone. They’re bigger than any one party. They are about our democracy,” he said. “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.”
Scalia’s death and the upcoming fight over his replacement gives the White House an unexpected shot at shifting the balance of power on the Supreme Court in what would be a legacy-defining act during his last year in office. It also keeps the president from slipping quickly into “lame duck” status during an election year.
White House officials are unlikely to drag out the process of announcing Obama’s choice.
“They should move with dispatch,” said David Axelrod, Obama’s former senior adviser.
To rebut Republican arguments, the White House points to a host of previous Supreme Court nominees who have received speedy hearings and votes regardless of which party had control in Congress.
But the stakes in the presidential election just got higher.
The unexpected death of Scalia — and the immediate declaration from Republicans that the next president should nominate his replacement — adds even more weight to the decision voters will make in November’s general election.
For months, the candidates have espoused theoretical, sometimes vague, policy proposals. Now, the prospect of nominating a Supreme Court justice immediately after taking office offers a more tangible way for voters to evaluate the candidates.
Candidates in both parties have moved quickly to reframe the election as a referendum on the high court’s future.