In a move that has shocked critics and breaks at least 65 years of tradition, President Barack Obama has announced he has zero intention of attending Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s funeral on Saturday.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Wednesday admitted he didn’t have a sense for what the president was planning to do instead of paying his respects to Scalia.
When pressed whether Obama would be playing golf, Earnest refused to rule it out.
Earnest went on to say that Obama would send Vice President Joe Biden in his place, and Obama will only attend Scalia’s Friday wake.
Though it’s not uncommon for past presidents to miss the funeral of retired justices, Obama’s move is a break of 65 years of tradition by his predecessors of attending the funerals of sitting Supreme Court justices.
Scalia died on Saturday at age 79. He joined the court in 1986 and was its longest-serving justice.
Former Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who died in 2005, was the last member of the high court to lie in repose. Then President George W. Bush not only attended, but also eulogized Rehnquist at his funeral.
But before him, the last justice to die in office was Robert H. Jackson in 1954. His funeral was attended by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Picking a replacement for Scalia during an election year has become a serious point of contention between Obama and Congressional Republicans. In the past, the pace of judicial confirmations has slowed in presidential election years, thanks to reluctance by the party out of power in the White House to give lifetime tenure to their opponents’ picks.
Previously, lawmakers have sometimes informally agreed to halt hearings on lower court nominations during campaign season.
Obama has announced his intention to ignore this tradition as well, saying “the Supreme Court’s different” and that he still plans to nominate a replacement for Scalia with “plenty of time” for the Senate to act.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.