Although Republicans immediately made clear Saturday they intend to deny Senate confirmation of any nominee President Obama names to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, Obama has plenty of reasons to try.
Within an hour of the news of Scalia’s death, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a statement declaring “this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president. ... The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice.”
Many of the GOP presidential hopefuls, notably Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida, likewise said Obama should not name a replacement.
But the president will not wait to choose a nominee. Speaking from Rancho Mirage (Riverside County), where he is preparing for a summit with Southeast Asian nations this week, Obama said he will “fulfill my responsibility to name a successor,” saying his duty to do so is “bigger than any one person ... it’s about our democracy.”
Any Obama nominee would dramatically alter the high court’s fragile 5-4 split on the most controversial decisions, where Scalia has been the intellectual leader of the dominant conservative wing. Whether Obama nominates a replacement or not, the mere existence of the vacancy, and Scalia’s towering stature on the conservative right, only raises the stakes for both parties heading into the election, said Republican analyst Ford O’Connell.
“Scalia’s death is a microcosm of the 2016 election for both sides,” O’Connell said.