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.
That wasn’t the case on Saturday.
GOP presidential candidates and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellOvernight Healthcare: Hospitals plot attack against ObamaCare repeal Republicans tie Trump's Defense pick to funding fight Lawmakers haggle over funding bill as shutdown nears 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 Rodham ClintonFederal, state courts at odds on Michigan recount Denzel Washington blasts media for selling 'BS' Trump opening act questions Clinton's popular vote lead 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 CruzTed CruzPentagon's suppressed waste report only tip of the inefficient machine Markos Moulitsas: Kill the filibuster Ark., Texas senators put cheese dip vs. queso to the test MORE (Texas) and Marco RubioMarco RubioHaley to meet with senators during Washington trip Senate GOP to Obama: Stop issuing new rules Juan Williams: McConnell won big by blocking Obama MORE (Fla.), echoed McConnell in calling for the next commander in chief to make the decision.
Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck Grassley10 no-brainer ways to cut healthcare costs without hurting quality Senate GOP: National museum should include Clarence Thomas Drug pricing debate going into hibernation 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 ReidDemocratic efforts to cling to power at FCC are doomed to fail Lawmakers haggle over funding bill as shutdown nears Overnight Tech: Big win for Samsung over Apple | Trump to sit down with tech leaders | Trump claims credit for B investment deal 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.