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Obama Hails Justice Antonin Scalia, Says He Will Nominate Successor

by Phil Helsel /  / Updated 

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President Barack Obama said he will nominate a successor to replace Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, answering Republicans who called for him to leave the decision to the next president.

Obama paid tribute to Scalia in remarks Saturday night following the jurist's unexpected death earlier in the day, calling him "one of the towering legal figures of our time” and a "larger-than-life presence on the bench."

"A brilliant legal mind with an energetic style, an incisive wit and colorful opinions, he influenced a generation of judges, lawyers and students, and profoundly shaped the legal landscape,” Obama said. "He will no doubt be remembered as one of the most consequential judges and thinkers to serve on the Supreme Court."

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While the president said Saturday was "a time to remember Justice Scalia's legacy," he did announce his intention to nominate a successor.

The Republican Senate majority leader and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee called for the decision to be delayed and left to the next president.

Obama rebuffed the suggestion, saying "these are responsibilities that I take seriously as should everyone” that are "bigger than any one party.”

“They are about our democracy, and they are about the institution to which Justice Scalia dedicated his professional life in making sure it continues to function as the beacon of justice that our Founders envisioned,” Obama said.

Related: There's a Supreme Court Vacancy. What Happens Next?

He made clear there is “plenty of time” left in his term to nominate the next justice and for the Senate to hold hearings and confirm the pick.

Scalia was the court’s most influential conservative. He was nominated in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan, and was confirmed unanimously.

Famous for his strong language and fiery dissents, Scalia authored the ruling said the Second Amendment guarantees an individual's right to own a firearm, the court's most important gun case ever.

Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio said Saturday that the next president should choose Scalia’s successor. Ben Carson called on the Senate to block any Obama nominee.

While Obama made clear he planned to move ahead with a nomination, he also said that was a decision for another day because "at this moment, we most of all want to think about" Scalia's family.

“Michelle and I join the nation in sending our deepest sympathies to Justice Scalia’s wife Maureen and their loving family, a beautiful symbol of a life well lived," Obama said. "We thank them for sharing Justice Scalia with our country."

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