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 McConnellSenate passes bill to give flexibility for small business coronavirus aid program On The Money: GOP turning against new round of ,200 rebate checks | Millions of Americans frustrated by delayed unemployment checks | Senate votes to give coronavirus relief program more flexibility Rand Paul holding up quick passage of anti-lynching bill 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 ClintonBiden opens widest lead over Trump in online betting markets Trump, Biden battle to shape opinion on scenes of unrest Sessions accepts 'Fox News Sunday' invitation to debate, Tuberville declines 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 CruzRosenstein takes fire from Republicans in heated testimony Clyburn: Cowed GOP ascribes 'mystical powers' to Trump GOP senators dodge on treatment of White House protesters MORE (Texas) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioGOP senator blocks bill giving flexibility to small-business loans but says deal near GOP senators dodge on treatment of White House protesters Murkowski: Treatment of White House protesters 'not the America I know' MORE (Fla.), echoed McConnell in calling for the next commander in chief to make the decision.

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOvernight Health Care: Hydroxychloroquine ineffective in preventing COVID-19, study finds | WHO to resume hydroxychloroquine clinical research | WHO says no evidence coronavirus is mutating Rosenstein takes fire from Republicans in heated testimony Bipartisan lawmakers press Trump administration to get COVID-19 aid to Medicaid providers 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 Mason ReidCortez Masto says she's not interested in being Biden VP Nevada congressman admits to affair after relationship divulged on podcast Overnight Energy: 600K clean energy jobs lost during pandemic, report finds | Democrats target diseases spread by wildlife | Energy Dept. to buy 1M barrels of oil 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.