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Mourners Gather For Funeral Of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 20/02/2016 Sam Levine

WASHINGTON, Feb 20 (Reuters) - U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's memorial service on Saturday was expected to be attended by scores of U.S. political leaders, who will put aside for the moment their battle over his succession.

Justice Clarence Thomas was slated to read from the Bible at the service, under the blue-domed Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the nation's largest Catholic church.

Scheduled to attend were the Scalia family, members of Congress, the court's remaining eight justices, Vice President Joseph Biden and many others.

A staunch conservative and the court's longest-serving member, Scalia died last Saturday at age 79 at a Texas hunting resort, triggering a political struggle that promises to reshape the 2016 election campaigns.

Presidential candidate Ted Cruz, a Republican senator from Texas, was among those expected to attend the service. Like other Republicans, Cruz has said that President Barack Obama, a Democrat, should not name Scalia's replacement.

Rather, Republicans are saying no one should be named until after the presidential election in November, hoping that one of their own will be elected and get to choose the next justice.

Under law, the U.S. president is responsible for nominating Supreme Court justices to their lifetime appointments, subject to Senate review and confirmation. Appointing a justice to the court is one of the biggest decisions a U.S. president can make. Obama has vowed to select a successor to Scalia.

If he does so, Senate Republicans have threatened to block any nominee put forward by Obama, a stance likely to become an issue in the presidential race and in election year contests for seats in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

According to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, a majority of Americans believe it should be up to Obama to nominate the next justice, with opinion divided along ideological party lines.

This year the normally nine-justice court is set to decide its first major abortion case in nearly a decade, as well as cases on voting rights, affirmative action and immigration.

The new justice's politics could tilt the balance of the court. After Scalia's death, it has four conservative and four liberal members.

Appointed by Republican President Ronald Reagan in 1986, Scalia earned a reputation as a brilliant jurist during an era of conservative dominance on the court. He opposed abortion and same-sex marriage and supported the death penalty and gun rights.

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