Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor — who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan — broke with Republicans and said President Barack Obama should name Antonin Scalia’s replacement on the high court.
O’Connor, who was appointed to the court in 1981 and was known as the court’s swing vote until she retired in 2006, said the vacancy lining up with a presidential election “creates too much talk around the thing that isn’t necessary.”
“I don’t agree [with Republicans],” O’Connor, 85, told KSAZ in Phoenix. “We need somebody in there to do the job and just get on with it.”
The opening on the Supreme Court has become a central issue in the 2016 campaign after Scalia, 79, died while visiting a ranch in Texas on Saturday. Republicans are demanding that the Senate refrains from confirming US President Barack Obama’s eventual nomination to the court, while Democrats are lambasting Republicans for obstructing a constitutional right of the president.
“Well you just have to pick the best person you can under these circumstances, as the appointing authority must do,” O’Connor said. “And it’s an important position and one we care about as a nation, as a people. And I wish the president well as he makes choices and goes down that line — it’s hard.”
During Wednesday’s CNN Republican town hall in South Carolina, both Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) disagreed with O’Connor.
“The Supreme Court can function with eight justices,” Rubio said after acknowledging that he respected O’Connor but thought the next president, whether it be a Democrat or Republican, should pick Scalia’s successor. “This is going to be an issue in the campaign.”
Cruz said if Obama were to make a selection now, it wouldn’t “be fair to the nominee.”
“I think that hearing would end up very politicized,” he said. “I think this is a matter of policy — that during a lame-duck period, we should not be confirming a Supreme Court nomination.”
O’Connor was replaced on the court by Samuel Alito, who Senate Democrats, including Obama, attempted to filibuster in 2006. Obama now said he “regrets” that decision.