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President Obama Explains What He Wants in Supreme Court Nominee

Obama, in a post published on the SCOTUSBlog website, detailed the characteristics he's looking for in a nominee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia.
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The next justice of the Supreme Court will be an independent thinker with a strong intellect and sterling credentials — if President Barack Obama gets his way.

Obama, in a post published on the SCOTUSblog website Wednesday, revealed the characteristics he is looking for in a nominee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died Feb. 13.

"First and foremost, the person I appoint will be eminently qualified," Obama wrote. "He or she will have an independent mind, rigorous intellect, impeccable credentials, and a record of excellence and integrity. I’m looking for a mastery of the law, with an ability to hone in on the key issues before the Court, and provide clear answers to complex legal questions."

Related: Mitch McConnell Flatly Rejects Any Obama Pick to Supreme Court

But, the president said, that same person would not sit on the court with the purpose of trying to change the law.

"I seek judges who approach decisions without any particular ideology or agenda, but rather a commitment to impartial justice, a respect for precedent, and a determination to faithfully apply the law to the facts at hand," Obama continued.

His wish list includes someone who is shaped by his or her own personal experiences.

"That’s why the third quality I seek in a judge is a keen understanding that justice is not about abstract legal theory, nor some footnote in a dusty casebook. It’s the kind of life experience earned outside the classroom and the courtroom," he wrote.

But the road to a confirmation for whomever the president picks promises to be contentious — if it even makes it before the Senate.

Related: What's Next in the Upcoming Fight Over Shape of Supreme Court?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday said he would block a hearing on Capitol Hill should Obama decide to nominate someone during this presidential election year.

"I can now confidently say the view shared by virtually everyone in my conference is that the nomination should be made by the president who the people elect in the election that is underway right now," McConnell said.

Democrats, however, have voiced their opposition to waiting for a newly elected president to decide, saying the Constitution gives the president the right to nominate someone at any moment because of a vacancy.

"My Republican colleagues can choose to vote for or against President Obama's nominee. That is their prerogative," Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin said on the Senate floor Tuesday. "But they should not simply duck the vote. We weren't elected to this job to ignore important issues. We were elected to cast votes on important issues. And this is too important an issue to simply ignore."

The names of potential nominees have already been floated by court observers. The short list includes D.C. Circuit Court Judge Sri Srinivasan and California Attorney General Kamala Harris.

Tom Goldstein, who runs the influential SCOTUSblog, has said that U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch is likely to be the leading contender.

Scalia's unexpected death at age 79 has left the high court in a tenuous position, with hot-button issues such as immigration, affirmative action in schools and abortion on the schedule this year.

Scalia was among the most staunchly conservative jurists on the nine-member court, and his absence pits the four liberal-sided justices against the four usually conservative ones.

The justices returned to work Monday, and are expected to hear 10 cases over the next two weeks.

If a case is locked in a 4-4 tie, the ruling of the lower court must stand.

On Tuesday, Justice Samuel Alito said the Supreme Court will "deal with" having only eight justices, when he was asked at a Georgetown University talk about the GOP obstructing Obama's nomination.

He declined to offer what type of judge should replace Scalia, saying it was up to the president and the Senate to confirm someone.

Obama on SCOTUSblog wrote that finding a nominee is "a duty that I take seriously, and one that I will fulfill in the weeks ahead."