Justice Scalia’s death raises the stakes for 2016 election
WASHINGTON, D.C., February 15, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – The unexpected death of Catholic Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia has raised the political stakes for the 2016 presidential and Senate elections – and caused yet another fight between GOP Senate leaders and President Barack Obama.
On Saturday, Obama said it was his "plan to fulfill my constitutional responsibilities to nominate a successor in due time. There will be plenty of time for me to do so, and for the Senate to fulfill its responsibility to give that person a fair hearing and a timely vote."
"These are responsibilities that I take seriously, as should everyone," continued Obama. "They're bigger than any one party. They are about our democracy. They're about the institution to which Justice Scalia dedicated his professional life, and making sure it continues to function as the beacon of justice that our Founders envisioned."
Obama's current Supreme Court nominees, Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, are ideologically liberal, supporting abortion and having voted to redefine marriage last year. When she was a Clinton appointee in the 1990s, Kagan edited the American College of Gynecologists' conclusions that partial-birth abortion had no medical value.
This year, the Court faces major cases on religious liberty, affirmative action, abortion, and environmental regulations, among others.
While Democratic leaders in the Senate and both of the party's candidates for president urged Republicans to follow Obama's lead and approve any nominee, conservative and Republican leaders in the Senate and elsewhere said any nomination should wait until after November's presidential elections.
"The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, on Saturday. "Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President."
Conn Carroll, communications director for Senator Mike Lee, R-UT, tweeted, "What is less than zero? The chances of Obama successfully appointing a Supreme Court Justice to replace Scalia?"
Carroll followed that tweet by saying, "If anything this will put a full stop to all Obama judicial nominees going forward."
Lee, who clerked for conservative justice Samuel Alito, serves on the Senate's Judiciary Committee, through which any nominee must pass. According to The Des Moines Register, Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley, R-IA, stood with McConnell on blocking any Obama nominees.
"The fact of the matter is that it's been standard practice over the last nearly 80 years that Supreme Court nominees are not nominated and confirmed during a presidential election year," Grassley said. "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."
During Saturday's GOP debate, all of the candidates urged Obama to wait until 2017, citing decades of tradition where presidents have not nominated candidates in election years. CBS moderator John Dickerson corrected Texas's Senator Ted Cruz, who said that "we have 80 years of precedent of not confirming Supreme Court justices in an election year." Dickerson noted that Justice Anthony Kennedy was approved on February 3, 1988 – President Ronald Reagan's last year in office – after being nominated the previous November.
Florida's Senator Marco Rubio likewise said that "it has been over 80 years since a lame duck president has appointed a Supreme Court justice" – "lame duck" being a phrase often used in political circles to describe a president with little political power, or a president who isn't up for re-election, or even a president who is presiding over his last months in office after the election to decide his successor.
While many Democrats and liberals have accused Republicans of playing politics with the Supreme Court – which could now deadlock 4-4 on key cases this year – and said that Obama was elected by the people in 2012, Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Casey Mattox noted on Facebook that "the Senate is Republican as a result of the most recent vote – in which SCOTUS appointments played a role in many states. And the Senate decides whether or not to confirm a Justice."