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Why is Obama skipping Scalia’s funeral?

Reuters/Carlos Barria
The bench of late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is seen draped with black wool crepe in memoriam .
By Hanna Kozlowska
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

This post has been corrected.

The death of conservative Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia over the weekend has deepened the partisan rift in Washington. Many Senate Republicans say they will block any nomination of the next justice by president Barack Obama, drawing widespread criticism.

Now Obama himself is being accused of ill manners and worse for skipping Scalia’s funeral on Feb. 20. Instead, he will pay his respects beforehand, at the Supreme Court, where Scalia’s body will lie in repose.

“For the sake of our nation and decency, I hope it isn’t politics keeping President Obama from the funeral,” said Fox News anchor Greta Van Susteren. The network pointedly noted that the president had sufficient time to meet with Black Lives Matter activists today (Feb. 18). But criticism did not only come from Republicans.

“The president, obviously, believes it’s important for the institution of the presidency to pay his respects to somebody who dedicated three decades of his life to the institution of the Supreme Court,” said Josh Earnest, White House spokesman.

Vice president Joe Biden, who is Catholic, will attend the funeral at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

“I wouldn’t have expected President Obama to attend the funeral Mass, and I see no reason to fault him for not attending,” Ed Whelan, a former Scalia clerk told Politico. “The ceremony at the Supreme Court seems the most apt opportunity for the president to pay his respects, but he obviously might have severe competing demands on his time.”

President Obama and Justice Scalia did not see eye-to-eye on many Constitutional issues. But, as Politico points out, there is also little political precedent to definitively point out that the president has an obligation to attend the funeral of a Supreme Court justice. George W. Bush delivered the eulogy for conservative justice William Rehnquist in 2005, but the last justice to die in office before that was Robert H. Jackson in 1954.

Bill Clinton attended two funerals of Supreme Court justices, but skipped three, including that of the legendary Thurgood Marshall, where he sent Al Gore.

Speculation abounds as to whom Obama will nominate for Scalia’s place, as many Republicans demand that the nomination take place after the new president takes office next year.

Former conservative justice Sandra Day O’Connor, on the other hand, told a Fox News affiliate that someone needed to take the job and that the president should “get on with it.”

“Well, you just have to pick the best person you can under the circumstances as the appointing authority must do, and one that we care about as a nation and as a people,” she said.

Correction: This post previously stated that the Republicans demand that the nomination take place after the new president takes office in November. The new president will take office in January 2017, the election will take place in November.  

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