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Tuesday, March 26, 2019

By James Oliphant and Ginger Gibson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The sudden and shocking death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia opened a new and incendiary front in the already red-hot 2016 presidential race, one that promises to divide Democrats and Republicans and, perhaps, Republicans from themselves.

The vacancy on the court, which is now evenly split 4-4 between its conservative and liberal wings, had Republicans calling on President Barack Obama to refrain from choosing a successor to the right-leaning Scalia while Democrats urged Obama to do as the U.S. Constitution requires and put forward a candidate to face confirmation in an albeit hostile Senate.

The prospect of such a battle drew swift and furious comment from candidates vying to be elected president in November.

Facing off in a debate only hours after the 79-year-old Scalia’s death was announced, some Republican presidential candidates seized the moment to caution voters that their party’s front-runner, billionaire businessman Donald Trump, could not be trusted to nominate a stalwart conservative.

“If Donald Trump is president, he will appoint liberals,” charged U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas during the debate in South Carolina, which holds a Republican nominating contest next Saturday.

“Two branches of government hang in the balance, not just the presidency, but the Supreme Court,” Cruz said. “If we get this wrong, if we nominate the wrong candidate, the Second Amendment, life, marriage, religious liberty, every one of those hangs in the balance.”

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina also took a shot at Trump. “Donald Trump is not a conservative, so I don’t trust him to pick a judge,” Graham said before the debate. A real estate mogul, Trump has supported Democratic politicians in the past.

Trump, who also has taken several positions at odds with Republican orthodoxy, joined other candidates at the debate in insisting that Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican majority leader in the Senate, stand by his promise to block any Obama high court choice.

“It’s up to Mitch McConnell and everyone else to stop it,” Trump, a former reality TV show host, said. “It’s called delay, delay, delay.”

Under the U.S. system, the president nominates justices for the nine-member court and the Senate confirms them. The last justice to be approved by the Senate of the opposite party during an election year was Justice Anthony Kennedy in 1988.

Obama has already indicated that he intends to send a choice to the Senate in coming weeks, meaning that the nominee will be heavily scrutinized by presidential candidates in both parties – and more than likely be opposed by the majority of Republicans.

“The court may genuinely be a major issue this year,” said David Axelrod, a former top political adviser to Obama. “It will be a hell of a fight.”

Social Issues On Docket

Criticism of the court, which in recent years has upheld Obama’s sweeping healthcare plan and legalized same-sex marriage, has already been a thread running through several Republican candidates’ campaigns.

The conservative majority on the court had appeared poised to invalidate Obama’s immigration and climate-change policies. The loss of Scalia, considered to be a lodestar of conservative legal thought, and the potential swing of the court to the left, ensures that whatever drama plays out in the Senate this year will be mirrored on the campaign trail.

“There is no more clarifying debate in politics these days then when it comes to Supreme Court nominees,” said Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist and former aide to Senator Harry Reid of Nevada. “This now is for all the marbles.”

Reid was majority leader of the Senate when it confirmed previous Obama court nominees Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Manley called McConnell’s threat not to allow a vote on a potential Scalia replacement “completely beyond the pale.”

Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton seemed inclined to make McConnell’s threat a campaign issue.

“The Republicans in the Senate and on the campaign trail who are calling for Justice Scalia’s seat to remain vacant dishonor our Constitution,” Clinton said in a statement.

Axelrod said that the issue could help Clinton, locked in a tight race with U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

“I think it will make electability and experience in this realm more important,” he said.

Obama’s Options

Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, and a longtime observer of the Supreme Court nomination process, said Obama likely has two options.

“He could nominate a more liberal candidate who would have no real chance of getting through a Republican Senate – in which case this would become a salient political issue in 2016,” Hasen said. Or he could nominate a more moderate candidate who might gain enough Republican support to gain approval, he said.

There are risks to both approaches: A Republican obstruction of a liberal nominee would animate the Democratic Party’s progressive base in an election year but would leave the court without a potentially tie-breaking vote for perhaps a year.

That same Democratic base might view a moderate nominee as a betrayal, while conservative Republican voters likely would frown on any senator who voted to approve an Obama choice.

Manley said that McConnell has already shown that he is unwilling to support any choice made by Obama and that the White House must act aggressively. “The president should go forward and nominate the most liberal candidate possible,” he said.

Given the need to fire up its most passionate voters, that might just be exactly what Republican candidates want as well.

(Writing by James Oliphant; Reporting by Ginger Gibson and James Oliphant; Additional reporting by Steve Holland and Jeff Mason; Editing by Howard Golle

Photo: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia speaks at an event sponsored by the Federalist Society at the New York Athletic Club in New York October 13, 2014. REUTERS/Darren Ornitz

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60 responses to “Supreme Court Vacancy Upends Presidential Race”

  1. patrick g van meter says:

    More good news. Delay this all you want. The next Pres. will be Sanders. The conservative movement will continue to crumble. It is amazing to me that even with 15 candidates, you can’t come up with one person that is electable and every debate just makes it worse. Please, more debates.

  2. AlfredSonny says:

    Why was Scalia considered a loyal Constitutionist while he mixed church with state and violated his impartiality by participating in the Koch brothers’ exclusive summits?

    • Independent1 says:

      Some articles claim Scalia prided himself at being, or was considered to be, an ‘originalist’; claiming he made judgements based on what our founding fathers really intended when they wrote the Constitution. What utter garbage!! Scalia clearly had no clue as to what our founding fathers really intended when they wrote the Constitution – some of his judgements were clearly based on how much money he was passed under the table.- like the Citizen United fiasco and even his disastrous ruling on the 2nd Amendment applying to Americans that are not part of a militia. The NRA and the Koch Bros and Sheldon Adelson are still laughing about how they were able to negotiate those clearlypartisan-biased rulings.

    • Otto Greif says:

      What ruling did he “mix church with state”? Accusing Scalia of violating his impartiality by speaking at an event is absurd, and hypocritical, because you don’t apply that standard to any of the liberal judges.

  3. AlfredSonny says:

    Now, who will Justice Clarence Uncle Thomas follow?

  4. The lucky one says:

    “Shocking”??? What’s shocking about a 79 year old vitriolic lard ass dying in his sleep.

  5. FireBaron says:

    I wouldn’t let Trump pick out toilet paper. What makes you think I would trust him to pick a Supreme Court Justice?

  6. pjm19606 says:

    Once again, the Right only follows the Constitution when it suits them.

  7. @HawaiianTater says:

    This is one of those rare times when I hope Republicans follow through with their promises. Please, please, please play the obstructionist card and keep that seat empty going into the election. Show your utter contempt for the Constitution you claim to love so much. I’m begging ya. Do it! Do it!

  8. pmbalele says:

    It is sad Scalia died at such an early age. But recently Scalia has shown low respect on African-American intelligence. This Justice referred African-American as slow to go fast universities. That was not constructive, but was to destroy African-American people. We hope God has pardoned him for what he said. It was horrible and reckless. I know most Repubs and TPs who mostly are Whites still think we Africa-Americans are intellectually inferior to them as Whites. Come to my state and you will find only 5 Blacks out of 2000 supervisory positions; and they have been told not to discipline White workers. Recently I was in states court when prosecutor said a Black male could not be as qualified as a White person even if the Black person passed state exam and ranked highest. And this was echoed at the federal district court. With Late Justice Scalia’s utterance that African-Americans should go to slow universities, he gave lower courts judges, prosecutors, private CEOs and government white officials “a go-ahead” and treat African-American as intellectually inferior not deserving to be hired in technical and supervisory positions. And this trend is seen in right-wing media and Cable News Company. For example all FoxNews GOP and Democratic debate moderators were all White people. They claimed if they put a Black moderator their ratings will go down. The fact is that they were acting on Scalia utterance that Blacks are intellectually inferior to Whites. It is said Scalia died at such an early age. May be God wanted him sooner to rest in peace.

    • Independent1 says:

      I wish I could be as forgiving of someone who has played a major role in Supreme Court decisions that have had a disastrous affect on millions of people’s lives as you have been in your post. But I’m struggling with that as Justice Scalia had played a major role in SCOTUS decisions that have negatively impacted the lives of far more than just African-Americans.
      Scalia played a major role in the Citizens United decision which is still working today to sabotage our Democracy which is allowing Republicans to continue to pass legislation in state after state that is having a significant impact on depressing the lives of millions of Americans. To the point where GOP-run states BY FAR lead the nation in not only people living below the poverty level but actually being on the verge of total bankruptcy.
      Scalia played a major role in the 2008 disastrous decision that the 2nd Amendment applies to all Americans even those not involved in a militia which is counter to what Madison intended when he wrote the amendment. Sadly this decision has allowed states to implement laws that have hoodwinked millions of Americans into buying guns with the misguided notion that they will serve as self-protection; when studies show that what owning a gun really does is setup families for a gun-related disaster (where the gun ends up killing someone in the home where the gun is – usually a spouse or child or family friend); and is part of the reason why there are 200,000 gun-related hospitalizations every year due to shooting accidents (not to mention the 11-12,000 homicides and 19,000 suicides annually). Scalia directly contributed to these atrocities continuing at their current levels when they had been declining!!
      And Scalia contributed to the SCOTUS decision that allows companies to deprive its employees of covering the costs of contraceptives – which has resulted in more unwanted pregnancies occurring and most likely more women choosing to have an abortion.
      And I’m sure there are far more decisions that Scalia played a role in that are continuing to have a negative impact on millions of people’s lives. So whether or not Scalia ‘rests in peace’ now is something for Jesus to decide. Unfortunately, there are too many negatives with respect to Justice Scalia’s life that I am aware of for me to make that judgement.

      • Sand_Cat says:

        Hopefully, “Jesus” is resting in peace, despite the best efforts of the right to make him spin in his grave, whereever it might be.

    • CrankyToo says:

      My guess is that Scalia was in hell before God even knew he was dead. And I say, “Good riddance, Koch-head”.

  9. Bob Eddy says:

    I truly regret that I can not find even an iota of sympathy at the loss of this evil, despicable SOB, but I just can’t. Yes, he was always true to his ideology, but the same can be said for many of the worlds vilest creatures. No one ever praised the KKK or the Mafia for their loyalty to their ideology. No one should respect him for his. The real question now is if Thomas will have to have a special line to the Koch Brothers now.

  10. A_Real_Einstein says:

    We woke up this morning to a much more liberal America and that is a wonderful thing. May Antonin Scalia Rest in Peace and the promise of progressivism rule the day. God Bless America

    • Maggie Schafer says:

      I was at the gym yesterday when it came on the news that Scalia, the monster of the Supreme Court, had dropped dead! We had a group of firefighters and others working out and WE ALL CHEERED!!!!!!! Bravo – the Kama sheriff is hitting the GOP hard – first Trump is derailing them and now Scalia has taken up his rightful place in hell!

  11. sunjune says:

    Politicians needs to stop the bickering and do the job they have been elected to do. It is the job of the President to appoint a replacement for the high court, and the Senate has the job to affirm nominations; whether they vote up or down; it is the process.

  12. Bren Frowick says:

    Two possibilities here: one, Congress does its job and allows Obama’s pick to take a seat on SCOTUS. Two, they delay and let President Sanders or President Clinton make the pick. They might well choose Barack Obama , which would simply be delicious. Either way, it is a no-win for the obstructionists.

  13. Nick says:

    A thorough investigation is needed before this president can even consider anybody else. I’m not buying this natural causes for a sitting judge. This looks like foul play.

    • jamesowens says:

      proof that karma is real as I am sure this evil man and his corrupt ideologies were spawned in hell by the devil he now serves. may his contemporaries soon follow. mcconnel the devil calls your name

      • Nick says:

        I don’t care what he has done. What I do know is that the people of the U.S. is owed a thorough investigation of a sitting judge and not to sweep this under the rug. Anything is possible.

        • greenlantern1 says:

          With the party of Nixon; YEP!!
          That includes the “accidental” plane crash of Dorothy Hunt!

        • Maggie Schafer says:

          There is nothing to sweep under any rugs! The guy died of natural causes! He was a fat old man! No one is going to investigate! You are certainly a perfect example of a cognitive dissonant!

        • Sand_Cat says:

          Obviously you do very much care what he has done. It would appear that you approve of his abuse of the Constitution and the nation. And “sitting judges” and other government officials are owed an autopsy only if their deaths are suspicious, not because some right-wing lunatic wants another shot at character assassination of politicians who opposed his ideas.

    • Maggie Schafer says:

      Absolute proof that Karma exists! There is a special place in hell for Scalia – he was a disgrace to the Supreme Court! Tell Nick that his foul play theory is hysterical – who did you get the idea from – Trump? If it was foul place, it was a Republican trying to kill a Democrat Judge and missing! You are a idiot Nick!

      I hope the next one to croak off is Thomas and then McConnell – maybe McConnell should go first!

      • Nick says:

        Why are you so filled with mean and hate? Prayer will help that. A sitting judge that dies not deserve the lack of a descent autopsy.

        • Maggie Schafer says:

          Respect has to be earned and Scialia only earned contempt! Pray? Do you think that is going to clean up the messes me made? That is the same answer all of you right wing religious wingnuts have! Pray for yourself and pray that we soon get a decent Justice who will bring back some of the honor the Supreme Court lost under the Scalia rein of terror!

        • Insinnergy says:

          No amount of prayer will help you, short round.
          You’re a fully endowed conspiracy wingnut.

        • Sand_Cat says:

          Maybe you should pray for yourself; your claim shows where you stand on matters of “mean and hate.”
          But you are right in part: the man apparently had a good sense of humor and was a warm and affable friend. The fact that he is no longer on the court may be cause for celebration, but not his death.

    • greenlantern1 says:

      Did police officers Alyn Beck and Igor Soldo die of natural causes?
      The party of Clyven Bundy, is crying foul play?

    • Bren Frowick says:

      And there it is…. the wing nuts crawling out of the cesspool and spewing ugly conspiracy theories. Only a matter of time before they decide to claim that Hillary had her team of assassins murder Scalia and make it “look like an accident”. Don’t forget the cannoli… Or hey, blame it all on Obama, because… well, just because…

    • Polana says:

      “With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion” Steven Weinberg
      Justice should be blind and impartial, Scalia – God rest his soul and judge him for the death of 5K US soldiers and thousands of Iraqis citizens for giving us George W.Bush the Stupid, King of the Greedy Old People, King of the Goofy old People and the moronic fat Old Grumpy Person McConnell-
      The good for nothing, never accomplished anything Thomas should resign,.
      Nick – Blame Obama for his death he did it. U R truly a piece of work.

  14. greenlantern1 says:

    Judge Christopher Cooper!
    He was already nominated by President Obama!
    He was already confirmed by the senate!
    In the Ahmed Abu Khattala case; he has proven that the long arm of the law includes Benghazi!

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