US & Canada

Antonin Scalia death: Obama to act after Senate returns next week

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Media captionFormer Attorney General Alberto Gonzales: "He was a Justice of great consequence in American history"

A new US Supreme Court judge to replace justice Antonin Scalia will be nominated by the president after next week, the White House has said.

There will be no announcement before the Senate returns on 22 February, said deputy press secretary Eric Schultz.

Republicans have demanded President Barack Obama - a Democrat - leave the nomination to his successor next year.

Mr Scalia, 79, was found dead at a Texas ranch on Saturday. He died of natural causes, a judge has said.

Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara told the Associated Press news agency she came to that conclusion after speaking to Mr Scalia's doctor and the police.

Why is this a big deal?

Scalia - in his own words

The death of a powerful conservative voice on the bench of the country's highest court threatens to spark a constitutional crisis in the US.

Possible Obama picks

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Srinivasan and Harris are among the names in the mix
  • Srikanth Srinivasan, a 48-year-old judge who was approved in 2013 by the Senate for the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, is thought to be favoured
  • Jane Kelly, 51, also given unanimous Senate approval in 2013 to the appeals court, has been mentioned
  • Paul Watford, 48, was clerk for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, would be third African-American justice
  • California Attorney General Kamala Harris, 51, is reportedly eyeing a Senate seat

According to the constitution, the president nominates justices to the court and the Senate - currently controlled by the Republicans - uses its "advice and consent" powers to confirm or reject that person.

In recent years, the court has made key rulings on gay marriage, abortion and Mr Obama's key healthcare legislation.

The loss of Mr Scalia means the make-up of the court is now four justices picked by a Democratic president and four by a Republican, so there are four largely liberal voices and four largely conservative.

The conservatives have been in the majority but a new judge could tip the balance, and Republicans running for president are strongly opposed to Mr Obama making his choice.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The court in Washington has been the scene for some bitter legal and cultural battles
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Floral tributes were laid at the court steps

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agrees - he believes such a key appointment should not be made by a departing president.

But the White House has vowed to press ahead, although there will be no swift decision within days.

"Given that the Senate is currently in recess, we don't expect the president to rush this through this week, but instead will do so in due time once the Senate returns from their recess," said Mr Schultz.

The presidential election is in November, with a new US president to be inaugurated in January 2017.

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