Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, 79, has died during a hunting vacation in Texas.
Scalia was the leading conservative voice on the court, and his death will set off a mammoth fight over who should replace him in the heat of a presidential election cycle.
However, Senate Democrats moved quickly Saturday to demand action on a Supreme Court nominee following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called Scalia a “brilliant man” and “dedicated jurist” in a statement and said the work on filling his vacancy should begin immediately.
“The President can and should send the Senate a nominee right away. With so many important issues pending before the Supreme Court, the Senate has a responsibility to fill vacancies as soon as possible,” Reid said.
“It would be unprecedented in recent history for the Supreme Court to go a year with a vacant seat. Failing to fill this vacancy would be a shameful abdication of one of the Senate’s most essential Constitutional responsibilities.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy (Vt.), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said the American people deserve to have a fully functioning Supreme Court.
“Although I often did not agree with his legal opinions, no one doubted his commitment or his brilliance,” Leahy said of Scalia. “I hope that no one will use this sad news to suggest that the President or the Senate should not perform its constitutional duty.”
“It is only February,” he said. “The President and the Senate should get to work without delay to nominate, consider and confirm the next justice to serve on the Supreme Court.”
However, Republicans disagree. A spokesman for Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), a conservative who sits on the Judiciary panel, said on Twitter after the news of Scalia’s death that no nominee from Obama should be considered. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a presidential candidate, echoed Lee in a statement.
“The next president must nominate a justice who will continue Justice Scalia’s unwavering belief in the founding principles that we hold dear.”
“Today, our nation has suffered a deep loss,” he said. “Justice Scalia was one of the most consequential Americans in our history and a brilliant legal mind who served with only one objective: to interpret and defend the Constitution as written.”
The conservative Judicial Crisis Network said President Obama should be the last person to appoint Scalia’s successor.
“This president, who has shown such contempt for the Constitution and the laws, is the last person who should be appointing his successor,” Carrie Severino, the group’s chief counsel and policy director, said in a statement. “The American people on both sides of the aisle are disgusted with the status quo in Washington and another nomination by this President would just bring about more of the same.”