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Obama: SCOTUS pick will be "indisputably qualified"

Last Updated Feb 16, 2016 7:24 PM EST

President Obama on Tuesday said the U.S. Constitution is clear about what should happen next to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat left by Justice Antonin Scalia, who died Saturday.

"When there is a vacancy on the Supreme Court, the president is to nominate someone, the Senate is to consider that nomination and either they disapprove of that nominee or that nominee is elevated to the Supreme Court of the United States," he said at a press conference in California marking the end of a two-day summit between the U.S. and leaders from Southeast Asian nations.

"There is no unwritten law that says it can only be done in off-years," Obama said, asserting that he has the right to appoint a judge even though it's an election year and Republicans say the next president should have that privilege.

Scalia, 79, was found dead Saturday in his room at a West Texas resort. A spokesperson for the U.S. Marshals Service said he appeared to die of natural causes. CBS News confirmed Tuesday that Scalia's funeral mass will be held Saturday at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. There will be a private burial.

Mr. Obama said there won't be any sort of litmus test on a particular issue to determine his pick, but stressed that he will nominate someone who's "indisputably qualified" who is an outstanding legal mind, cares about democracy and rule of law.

"I intend to nominate in due time a very well qualified candidate," the president said.

He slammed Senate Republicans' obstructionism when it comes to judicial nominations and suggested that they're hypocritical for being strict readers of the Constitution but demand that he wait for the next president to nominate someone.

"This is the Supreme Court. The highest court in the land," he said. "It's the one court where we would expect elected officials to rise above day to day politics."

Asked if he would consider making a recess appointment to the Supreme Court, Mr. Obama said there's time to go through the regular process of Congress holding hearings and vote on a nominee.

And, on the question of whether he planned to nominate a moderate, the president cut off the reporter's question with a flat "No."

Earlier in the day, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, didn't rule out holding a hearing.

"I would wait until the nominee is made before I would make any decisions," Grassley told a group of Iowa reporters on a conference call, according to Radio Iowa. "In other words, take it a step at a time."

After news of Scalia's death broke on Saturday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said that the Senate should wait 11 months until the next president is sworn in before its members confirm Scalia's replacement.

At the CBS News GOP presidential debate Saturday, just hours after his death, Republican presidential candidates said that the Senate should block whomever Obama nominates.

CBS News' Jan Crawford contributed to this story.

  • Rebecca Shabad

    Rebecca Shabad is a video reporter for CBS News Digital.