US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to media on January 20, 2016 in Washington, DC
Washington (AFP) - President Barack Obama should not nominate a successor to fill the critical vacancy in the US Supreme Court left by conservative Justice Antonin Scalia's death, the Senate Republican majority leader said Saturday.
"The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice," Mitch McConnell said in a statement, referring to the upcoming November general election.
"Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president."
McConnell mourned the loss of "an unwavering champion of a timeless document that unites each of us as Americans," referring to Scalia's fidelity to the US Constitution.
"Through the sheer force of his intellect and his legendary wit, this giant of American jurisprudence almost singlehandedly revived an approach to constitutional interpretation that prioritized the text and original meaning of the Constitution," McConnell added.
Republicans, who control both houses of Congress, are eager to prevent Obama, a Democrat, from pushing through in the final year of his term a nomination that could tip the balance of the court from a conservative majority to a liberal one.
McConnell's Democratic counterpart Harry Reid pressed instead for Obama to send a nominee to the Senate "right away."
Reid said it would be "shameful" for the chamber to fail to confirm a replacement before the next US president is sworn in, in January 2017.
"There is no doubt Justice Antonin Scalia was a brilliant man. We had our differences and I disagreed with many of his opinions, but he was a dedicated jurist and public servant," Reid said.
"The president can and should send the Senate a nominee right away. With so many important issues pending before the Supreme Court, the Senate has a responsibility to fill vacancies as soon as possible.
"It would be unprecedented in recent history for the Supreme Court to go a year with a vacant seat. Failing to fill this vacancy would be a shameful abdication of one of the Senate's most essential Constitutional responsibilities."
According to the Congressional Research Service, the average number of days from a president's nomination of a Supreme Court justice candidate to a final Senate vote has been 67 days, or a little more than two months, for the past four decades.