By Susan Heavey
(Reuters) – A day after Senate Republicans ruled out taking action on any Supreme Court nominee he puts forward, President Barack Obama on Wednesday vowed to move ahead with a selection who will possess an “independent mind” and grasp how laws impact people’s lives.
An intense political fight has erupted since the Feb. 13 death of long-serving conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, as Republicans maneuver to foil Obama’s ability to choose a replacement who could tilt the court to the left for the first time in decades. The Senate must confirm any high court nominee.
“The Constitution vests in the president the power to appoint judges to the Supreme Court. It’s a duty that I take seriously, and one that I will fulfill in the weeks ahead,” Obama, sounding undeterred by the Republican-led Senate’s recalcitrance, wrote in a blog post on the independent SCOTUSblog.com website.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced on Tuesday that the Republican-led Senate will not hold hearings or vote on any Supreme Court nominee until after the next president takes office in January.
Obama did not appeared deterred in his blog post, writing: “As senators prepare to fulfill their constitutional responsibility to consider the person I appoint, I hope they’ll move quickly to debate and then confirm this nominee so that the court can continue to serve the American people at full strength.”
Obama, who did not mention potential candidates by name, laid out a list of qualifications he would seek in a nominee who he promised would be “eminently qualified.”
“He or she will have an independent mind, rigorous intellect, impeccable credentials and a record of excellence and integrity,” Obama wrote.
In an apparent nod to conservatives who decry “activist judges,” Obama said his appointee “will be someone who recognizes the limits of the judiciary’s role; who understands that a judge’s job is to interpret the law, not make the law.”
He said he also wants a nominee who has life experience to understand that justice is not about abstract legal theory and “grasps the way it affects the daily reality of people’s lives in a big, complicated democracy, and in rapidly changing times.”
The U.S. presidential election is set for Nov. 8 and Republicans want the next president to fill Scalia’s vacancy, hoping a Republican will be elected.
Scalia’s death left the shorthanded court with four liberals and four conservatives, with Obama’s nominee positioned to change the court’s ideological balance.
Obama already has appointed two Supreme Court justices during his seven years as president. The Senate confirmed his prior two nominees – Sonia Sotomayor in 2009 and Elena Kagan in 2010 – but the chamber was controlled by Obama’s fellow Democrats at the time.
Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama discusses administration plans to close the Guantanamo military prison while delivering a statement at the White House in Washington February 23, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria