President Obama said Saturday he would nominate a successor to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who passed away on earlier in the day at the age of 79.
“I plan to fulfill my constitutional responsibilities to name a successor in due time," he told reporters. "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 spoke from the Omni Rancho Las Palmas in Rancho Mirage, Calif., where he is on a weekend golf getaway before a summit with Asian leaders starting Monday.
Scalia's death set off a partisan battle over whether Obama should nominate a replacement for the conservative jurist during his final year in office.
The president urged Republicans and Democrats to put aside election-year politics and confirm a nominee to ensure nine justices continue to serve on the bench.
"These are responsibilities I take seriously, as should everyone. They are bigger than any one party, they are about our democracy," he said.
“They are 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," he added.
GOP presidential candidates and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellGOP senators introducing ObamaCare replacement Monday Senators introduce dueling miners bills Dems demand second hearing for Trump's Education nominee MORE (R-Ky.) had statements just hours after the news of Scalia’s passing arguing the decision should be left to the next president.
“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice,” McConnell said in a statement Saturday. “Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.
Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidDems want Sessions to recuse himself from Trump-Russia probe Ryan says Trump, GOP 'in complete sync' on ObamaCare Congress has a mandate to repeal ObamaCare MORE (D-Nev.) said Obama should make a quick appointment, noting the court has a number of high profile cases on the docket this year.
“It would be unprecedented in recent history for the Supreme Court to go a year with a vacant seat,” Reid said. “Failing to fill this vacancy would be a shameful abdication of one of the Senate's most essential Constitutional responsibilities.”
Obama offered kind words for Scalia, who was often critical of his administration's policies in court decisions.
The president called the Trenton, N.J., native "a larger than life presence on the bench" who "profoundly shaped the legal landscape" of his generation.
“He will no doubt be remembered as one of the most consequential judges and thinkers to serve on the Supreme Court," Obama said.
Scalia died during a weekend hunting vacation in Texas.