Sen. Mark Kirk broke with Republican lawmakers Monday to support President Barack Obama moving forward with the process to nominate a replacement for the late Antonin Scalia as the ninth member of the U.S. Supreme Court.
"Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was a giant in the history of American constitutional law," Kirk wrote in an op-ed for the Chicago Sun-Times on Tuesday. "His legacy and contribution to our nation will long endure. And it is that legacy now that our actions should honor.
Scalia died a little more than a week ago at a remote Texas hunting resort. The 79-year-old jurist was appointed to the court in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan.
A group of Republican senators, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, argue that Obama should not fill the vacancy as a lame duck but rather leave it to the next president.
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Kirk referred to his obligation to honor the Constitution as the reason for his decision.
"As a 23-year veteran of the U.S. Navy Reserve and as a United States senator, I swore an oath to protect and uphold the constitution," he wrote. "That oath is to our constitution, not to a party or any one individual, but to the ideals that bind our nation. I recognize the right of the president, be it Republican or Democrat, to place before the Senate a nominee for the Supreme Court and I fully expect and look forward to President Barack Obama advancing a nominee for the Senate to consider."
Kirk noted that his decision was not particularly indicative of how he would vote on Obama’s nominee.
He claimed electing a “partisan” or “extreme” nominee “would not be prudent nor would it provide a steady, scholarly hand to guide the constitutional ship of state.” Kirk called on Obama to elect a candidate with the bipartisan values that the president championed at his Springfield address earlier this month.
“My sincerest hope is that President Obama nominates someone who captures the sentiment he spoke about before the Illinois General Assembly this month — a nominee who can bridge differences, a nominee who finds common ground and a nominee who does not speak or act in the extreme," he wrote.
The Democratic frontrunner in the election for Kirk's seat, Rep. Tammy Duckworth, issued a statement last week urging Kirk to make his position known on the matter of the appointment.
“Senator Mark Kirk must immediately level with the people of Illinois, and let us know whether he supports the Constitution,” Duckworth said. “Or if he’ll be a rubber stamp for Mitch McConnell’s obstructionist and unconstitutional gambit.”
Kirk responded to Duckworth's statement, encouraging reverence for Scalia’s life before politicizing the vacancy.
“The political debate erupting about prospective nominees to fill the vacancy is unseemly,” Kirk said. “Let us take the time to honor his life before the inevitable debate erupts.”
Duckworth issued an additional statement Monday applauding Kirk's decision and calling for action.
“I'm pleased Sen. Kirk has chosen under pressure to do the right thing and support the President's constitutional duty to nominate a Supreme Court nominee," Duckworth said. "He should go a step further, however, and demand Senators McConnell and Grassley end their obstruction and hold hearings and allow a vote on a nominee.”
Andrea Zopp, Duckworth's opponent in the Democratic primary, also issued a statement on Kirk's decision.
"Unfortunately, Senator Kirk's statement is typical of the problem in Washington right now -- he, like Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, is skilled at giving us cheap political talk, but not specifics," Zopp's campaign manager Bryce Colquitt said. "Andrea calls on Senator Kirk to commit to voting to confirm any qualified nominee the President puts forward. If she was in the Senate right now, she would make that commitment."
Kirk will face James Marter in the March 15 Republican primary.
Duckworth will face Zopp and State Sen. Napoleon Harris in the March 15 Democratic primary.
The general election is set for November 8.