(WASHINGTON) President Barack Obama will not attend conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s funeral on Saturday, the White House says.
The president and first lady will instead pay their respects on Friday while Scalia lays in repose at the high court.
‘I can tell you that Vice President Biden and Dr. Jill Biden will attend Justice Scalia’s funeral at the Basilica on Saturday,’ White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said.
It was not immediately clear why the president won’t go to the formal funeral.
‘I don’t have a sense of what the president’s plans are for Saturday,’ Earnest said after a reporter suggested it would be bad form for him to go golfing, a favorite weekend activity of Obama’s.
The White House official had few details on the executive branch’s involvement in the funeral proceedings. He could not say whether the vice president would give a eulogy.
At the suggestion that the president might go to a private ceremony on Friday, Earnest said the White House would have additional details at a later time.
When active Supreme Court Chief Justice Justice William Rehnquist passed away in 2005, then-President George W. Bush attended the ceremony and gave a tribute to the Republican-appointed judge.
He did not attend the funeral of John F. Kennedy era judge Byron White. The ex-justice had retired a decade before before, however.
As Obama’s spokesman was peppered with questions about Scalia and Obama’s plans to replace him on the bench, Earnest said Friday presents an ‘important opportunity for the president and first lady to pay their respects to Scalia.’
‘I think that’s important not just on a personal level, but also on an institutional level,’ he said. ‘It also is an appropriate opportunity for the individual who is serving as President of the United States to offer respect to somebody who served in a third branch of government.’
Obama and Senate Republicans are already in a stand off over Scalia’s seat, though he’s been dead less than a week.
The president wouldn’t commit yesterday to putting a moderate on the court and urged Senate Republicans promising to filibuster his nominee, whoever he or she may be, to fulfill their constitutional responsibility to confirm or deny his pick.
Dirtying the waters, however, is Obama’s own filibuster as a senator of George W. Bush appointee Samuel Alito.
‘That is an approach the president regrets,’ Earnest said today.
Obama now wishes he’d followed the advice in 2006 that he’s giving to Republicans, he said, and Democrats had made a ‘public case’ against Alito.
‘They shouldn’t have looked for a way to just throw sand in the gears of the process,’ he acknowledged.
The difference between Democrats’ filibuster then and the one Republicans are promising now, though, he said, is Democrats’ was based on ‘substance.’
Some Senate Republicans have indicated that no matter who Obama nominates they will stand in opposition.
Ted Cruz, the GOP candidate for president and U.S. senator from Texas, says the American people want the next president to fill the vacancy on the court.
Obama has 11 months left in his term and the constitutional authority to put forward a name and said yesterday he intends to do so, regardless of Republicans’ threats.
‘Historically this has not been viewed as a question. There’s no unwritten law that says that it can only be done on off years. That’s not in the Constitutional text,’ Obama said yesterday.
CNN reports that the president’s team has already begun the vetting process and will narrow his list to three or four names by week’s end.
The president’s spokesman said today that he has no time frame to share on a nomination.
By comparison, the White House announced the nominations of Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagen a month after it found out a seat would become vacant.
Loretta Lynch, the attorney general and a former U.S. Attorney in New York, is considered a leading contender.
So is Sri Srinivasan, a judge on the Court of Appeals for Washington, D.C. Srinivasan would be the first Indian-American on the court. He and Cruz are friendly as they clerked together, making Srinivasan a strong consensus candidate.
Asked directly about Lynch today, the White House press secretary laughed and said, ‘She appears to be on the list of many of you.’
All Obama has publicly said about the qualifications of the person he will pick is that the person will have an ‘outstanding legal mind’ and be ‘somebody who cares deeply about our democracy and cares about rule of law.’
‘There’s not gonna be any particular position on a particular issue that determines whether or not I nominate them,’ he said.
Adding, ‘I am going to present somebody who indisputably is qualified for the seat and any fair-minded person, even somebody who disagreed with my politics, would say would serve with honor and integrity on the court.’
Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley immediately claimed after Scalia’s death that it has been ‘standard practice over the last 80 years’ not to nominate someone in the last year of a presidency.
His statement was quickly upended by evidence to the contrary.
As MSNBC pointed out, exactly 20 years to the day of Scalia’s death, Grassley gave a speech to the Senate pushing them to confirm Anthony Kennedy, who was nominated by Ronald Reagan nine months before a presidential election during his second and final term.
Grassley has since said he’ll wait to see who Obama nominates before he makes a decision on whether to grant his committee the authorization to hold a hearing.
Obama’s nominee must clear the Senate Judiciary Committee before he or she can be considered by and voted on by the full legislative body.