RANCHO MIRAGE, California — -- President Obama has announced his intent nominate a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who was found dead in Texas today.
"These are responsibilities that I take seriously as should anyone," Obama said of his constitutional power to nominate in the case of a vacancy. "They are bigger than any one party."
The move sets up a major political battle in the president's final year in office. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement today that Scalia's seat should not be filled until the American people elect a new president.
In a statement released this evening, McConnell said: "The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President."
Senate Democrats were just as adamant that Obama should nominate a new justice, and said they will attempt to keep Republicans from dragging out the confirmation process.
"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."
Without Scalia, the court is evenly divided between four conservative and four liberal justices, which could make the leaning of Scalia's replacement a key to court decisions.
The president didn’t directly address McConnell’s statement, saying the day should be used to remember Scalia, a "larger than life" figure who "dedicated his life to the cornerstone of our democracy -- the rule of law."
Following his statement, the president issued a proclamation ordering flags to be flown at half-staff in honor of Scalia.