Scalia’s death opens partisan battle

Scalia’s death opens partisan battle
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A sharp partisan battle opened Saturday over whether President Obama should nominate a successor to the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

The news of Scalia’s death was a bombshell in an already lively election cycle, as both sides quickly recognized a story that would reverberate in the races for the House, Senate and presidency.

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Normally after a political figure of Scalia’s stature dies, politics is set aside for at least a day in favor of more magnanimous statements underscoring the deceased’s importance and civil service.

That wasn’t the case on Saturday.

GOP presidential candidates and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat McConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Brent Budowsky: A plea to Alabama voters MORE (R-Ky.) had statements out within two hours of the Scalia news that mixed praise for the justice with calls for Obama to punt the decision to the next president.

“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice,” McConnell said in a statement Saturday. “Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President.

Democrats argued that waiting until 2017 would be an unprecedented dereliction of duty, while some liberals asked why there was even a question about Obama offering up a nomination.

“The Senate has a constitutional responsibility here that it cannot abdicate for partisan political reasons,” Democratic presidential candidate Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGrassley blasts Democrats over unwillingness to probe Clinton GOP lawmakers cite new allegations of political bias in FBI Top intel Dem: Trump Jr. refused to answer questions about Trump Tower discussions with father MORE said in a statement.

She ripped Republicans, saying those “who are calling for Justice Scalia’s seat to remain vacant dishonor our Constitution.”

The reason for the outbursts was simple: The stakes are high.

A Supreme Court nomination fight would dominate Obama’s final year in office and send ripples throughout the 2016 presidential race. It could also help determine the majority of the Senate.

If the Senate does not confirm a nominee this year, it will mean that the leadership or direction of all three branches of the federal government will effectively be determined by voters in November.

Republican White House hopefuls, including Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzDebbie Wasserman Schultz marks 10 years as breast cancer survivor Foreign agent registration is no magical shield against Russian propaganda Let Trump be Trump and he'll sail through 2020 MORE (Texas) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRyan pledges 'entitlement reform' in 2018 Richard Gere welcomes lawmakers' words of support for Tibet Dem lawmaker gives McConnell's tax reform op-ed a failing grade MORE (Fla.), echoed McConnell in calling for the next commander in chief to make the decision.

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGrassley blasts Democrats over unwillingness to probe Clinton GOP and Dems bitterly divided by immigration Thanks to the farm lobby, the US is stuck with a broken ethanol policy MORE (R-Iowa), who leads the committee that would oversee a Supreme Court nomination, agreed. 

“Given the huge divide in the country, and the fact that this president, above all others, has made no bones about his goal to use the courts to circumvent Congress and push through his own agenda, it only makes sense that we defer to the American people who will elect a new president to select the next Supreme Court justice,” the Judiciary Committee chairman said. 

Democrats in the Senate are asking for a quick nomination. 

“It would be unprecedented in recent history for the Supreme Court to go a year with a vacant seat,” Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidBill O'Reilly: Politics helped kill Kate Steinle, Zarate just pulled the trigger Tax reform is nightmare Déjà vu for Puerto Rico Ex-Obama and Reid staffers: McConnell would pretend to be busy to avoid meeting with Obama MORE (D-Nev.) said in a Saturday statement. “Failing to fill this vacancy would be a shameful abdication of one of the Senate's most essential Constitutional responsibilities.”

Reid’s office pointed out that a Democratic Senate confirmed Anthony Kennedy, a nominee of former President Reagan, to the Supreme Court in 1988, his final year in office. Kennedy was confirmed after Democrats killed the nomination of conservative jurist Robert Bork. 

Democrats argued the court is facing too many important issues to leave only eight justices on the bench.

The court will hear cases this year on the legality of Obama’s executive actions on immigration, a Texas voting rights case and a challenge to the University of Texas’s affirmative action policies. 

If there are not nine justices serving on the court, there is a real possibility those cases could result in a 4-4 tie, meaning that the lower court rulings would stand in each case.