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Supreme Court back in session without Scalia

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The U.S. Supreme Court returned to work on Monday for the first time in 30 years without Justice Antonin Scalia. His empty seat was a reminder of the political battle over when to replace him.

Justice Scalia's seat on the bench now is draped with a black cloth. As the justices returned to work, the first time any of the eight have served on the court without the larger-than-life Scalia.

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The bench of late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is seen draped with black wool crepe in memoriam inside the Supreme Court in Washington in this February 16, 2016 file photo.
REUTERS

Chief Justice John Roberts started the morning session with a tribute: "We remember his incisive intellect, his agile wit, and his captivating prose. But we cannot forget his irrepressible spirit."

The 79-year-old Scalia was laid to rest on Saturday after a funeral mass led by his son Paul, a Catholic priest.

Now the fight over his successor begins in earnest. The president is reviewing files of possible nominees, while Republican leaders are vowing to block anyone the president sends up.

Democrats accused Republicans of being obstructionist, but when Democrats controlled the Senate and Republican George H.W. Bush was in the White House, then-judiciary committee chairman Joe Biden proposed the same thing Republicans are doing now.

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The Supreme Court back in session without Justice Scalia on Monday, Feb. 22, 2016.
Bill Hennessey

"Once the political season is underway and it is, action on a Supreme Court nomination must be put off until after the election campaign is over," Biden said in 1992.

Current Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassly, a Republican, immediately agreed:

"In his heart of hearts he understands what this Senate must do, when he said what the Senate must do in 1992," he said.

In the past it's taken about a month for a nomination, but the president is likely to move more quickly than that.

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    Jan Crawford is CBS News Chief Political and Legal Correspondent. She is from "Crossroads," Alabama.