Obama sets battle lines for Supreme Court nominee

Washington, Feb 17: Vowing to name an "indisputably" qualified nominee to replace a conservative Supreme Court judge who died suddenly last Saturday, President Barack Obama has asserted there was no bar on making appointments in an election year.

"The Constitution is pretty clear about what is supposed to happen now," he said at a news conference in California Tuesday, lashing out at Republicans who have threatened to block his choice for a replacement of Justice Antonin Scalia.


The so-called strict interpretation of the Constitution by which Republicans, including presidential contenders, want the choice of the ninth judge to be left to the next president is nowhere to be found, he said.

"I am amused when I hear people who claim to be strict interpreters of the Constitution suddenly reading into it a whole series of provisions that are not there," he said.

"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 honour and integrity on the court."

He added: "Your job doesn't stop until you are voted out or until your term expires."

Asked if he was going to choose a "moderate nominee" as speculated to win his confirmation, Obama replied with a flat "No" to laughter.

"I don't know where you found that," he said. You shouldn't assume anything about the qualifications of the nominee other than they're going to be well-qualified."

Amid the escalating Supreme Court nomination battle, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Charles Grassley, appeared to break ranks with the party.

"I would wait until the nominee is made before I would make any decisions" on hearings, he said. Still, Republicans have kept Obama from filling all but one of the vacancies on the 12 regional federal courts of appeal.

Later in the day Grassley said he's "concerned about balance" on the court which with the death of Scalia is evenly split among four liberal and four conservative judges.

Analysts suggested that president could decide to find the candidate he believes has the most stellar legal qualifications and thus increase political pressure on Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for a vote.

But given that his pick is unlikely to even have confirmation hearings, Obama could chose to nominate a "sacrificial lamb" who would delight the Democratic Party's liberal base voters and motivate a high turnout in November's election, CNN said.

Among likely Obama picks, media outlets have mentioned two Indian-Americans --Srikanth Srinivasan and Kamala Harris.

Chandigarh-born Srikanth was confirmed in 2013 by a 97-0 Senate vote as a judge on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Harris, daughter of an Indian mother and a Jamaican father, is currently California's attorney general and also running for the Senate this year.

However, Harris, 51, on Tuesday during a campaign event in San Jose said that while she is flattered to have her name mentioned, she has no interest focused as she is on her current job and her campaign.

If nominated, either would be the first Indian-American in line for the Supreme Court.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

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