Battle lines sharpen in fight over Supreme Court vacancy
Republican lawmakers and presidential candidates hardened their roles Sunday on blocking any step by President Obama to fill the seat left by the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a lifetime appointment that would help determine some of the most divisive problems confronting Americans.
The future justice could alter the balance of the nation’s highest court, which was left with 4 conservatives and 4 liberals. The vacancy rapidly became a concern in the 2016 presidential race.
“We ought to make the 2016 election a referendum on the Supreme Court,” U.S. Senator and Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz stated on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
The normally nine-justice court is placed to decide this year its first major abortion case in just about a decade, as well as cases on voting rights, affirmative action, immigration and public employee unions.
Scalia passed away on Saturday at a West Texas resort. Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara stated on Sunday that she checked with Scalia’s personal physician and sheriff’s investigators, who stated there were no signs of foul play, before deciding the 79-year-old had perished of natural causes. His family did not assume a private autopsy was necessary and requested his remains be flown home as soon as possible, stated Chris Lujan, a manager for Sunset Funeral Homes, which took the body to El Paso airport.
Obama, a Democrat, mentioned on Saturday that he would nominate someone to fill the empty seat, setting up a fight with the Republican-controlled Senate, which must agree to any nominee.
Republicans rapidly promised not to act on the vacancy until Obama’s successor takes office next January. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid explained failure to act would be a “shameful abdication” of the Senate’s constitutional obligation.
Both sides maintained history was on their side.
Reid stated it would be unheard of to have a vacancy on the court for a year. In the modern era, the longest Supreme Court vacancy was 363 days after Abe Fortas resigned in May 1969.
Republicans cited 80 years of tradition in which no Supreme Court nominees were accepted in presidential election years. Actually, Justice Anthony Kennedy was accepted in 1988, after a bruising fight in which the Senate turned down President Ronald Reagan’s first nominee, conservative Robert Bork.
Supreme Court nominations are extraordinary, so neither side has much information to depend on in determining precedents. History is also an unreliable manual as the nomination process has become significantly more politicized in recent years.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a relative moderate among the Republicans vying for the White House, stated the Senate should hang on because a fight this year would only deepen divisions in the country.
“You know how polarized everything is,” Kasich stated on ABC’s “This Week.” “What I don’t want to see is more fighting and more recrimination.”
Democratic U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy cautioned that a put off could have implications in November’s election, when voters get to choose who fills one-third of the Senate’s seats.
“If the Republican leadership refuses to even hold a hearing, I think that is going to guarantee they lose control of the Senate, because I don’t think the American people will stand for that,” he stated on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders mentioned the Constitution was clear. “The president makes the appointment, Senate confirms, let’s get on with that business,” the senator stated on “Fox News Sunday.”
Cruz, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee that takes the lead on Supreme Court nominees, explained the vacancy left by Scalia makes the presidential election even more significant.
He cautioned that a justice chosen by Sanders or his Democratic presidential rival, Hillary Clinton, would mean the Second Amendment right to bear arms would be “written out” of the Constitution and abortion would continue to be legal.
Cruz lumped Donald Trump in with the Democrats, expressing the Republican front-runner’s views were indistinguishable from theirs.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio, one more White House rival, stated he would want someone who echoed Scalia’s “originalist” ideology that looks at the U.S. Constitution through the lens of its framers’ 18th-century objectives.
“Does the person that we are nominating have a consistent and proven record of interpreting the Constitution as initially meant?” Rubio stated.
Trump, showing up on NBC, was more one on one when questioned what he would want: “Someone just like Justice Scalia.”