Portman: Wait to pick new Supreme Court justice

Posted at 12:36 AM, Feb 16, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-16 00:36:47-05

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- U.S. Sen. Rob Portman has joined fellow Republicans who say a new member of the U.S. Supreme Court shouldn't be chosen until after the presidential election.

Justice Antonin Scalia's unexpected death raises the question of whether President Barack Obama should nominate a replacement and the Republican-led Senate should confirm that choice in an election year.

Portman said it's common for the Senate not to act on lifetime appointments during the final year of a presidential term. He said he'd judge any nominee on merits.

Two Democrats campaigning for Portman's seat accused him of disregarding the Constitution. Former Gov. Ted Strickland says Portman prioritizes politics over public service. Cincinnati Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld says it'd be irresponsible if Obama didn't make a nomination and the Senate didn't act on it.

Obama said Saturday he would nominate a successor "in due time." The Senate should have "plenty of time ... to give that person a fair hearing and timely vote," he said.

The court has already heard -- but not decided -- big cases involving immigration, abortion, affirmative action and public employee unions. With many cases recently decided by 5-4 margins, the vacancy could have major repercussions, both legally and in the presidential race.

IN DEPTH: What Scalia's death means for key cases

Obama's remarks followed those of Republicans who wasted little time Saturday night, as news of Scalia's unexpected death spread, arguing that Obama should leave the choice to his successor.

"The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, said. "Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president."

Senate Democrats made clear that they would work vigorously to keep Republicans from trying to run out the clock. They quickly offered counterarguments to Republican statements that the decision should rest with the next president.

"It would be unprecedented in recent history for the Supreme Court to go a year with a vacant seat," said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. "Failing to fill this vacancy would be a shameful abdication of one of the Senate's most essential constitutional responsibilities."