The unexpected death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia will give President Obama the chance to appoint another Justice to the court's bench, and most likely assures that the matter will be a prime issue in the 2016 election.
"Justice Scalia dedicated his life to the cornerstone of our democracy: The rule of law," President Obama said from California, as he labeled the conservative jurist a "larger-than-life presence on the bench."
But looming over Scalia's death was the question of a successor, especially since a more liberal choice could tip the balance of the Supreme Court away from its conservative majority.
"Obviously, today is a time to remember Justice Scalia’s legacy," Mr. Obama told reporters, as he made clear he intends to nominate someone to replace Scalia.
"I plan to fulfill my constitutional responsibilities to nominate a successor in due time," the President said.
"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," Mr. Obama added.
But Senate Republicans swiftly served notice that they did not want Mr. Obama to fill that slot - arguing that the issue should basically be decided by the voters in November.
Credit: Jamie Dupree
Credit: Jamie Dupree
"The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a written statement.
"Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President," McConnell added.
Democrats were outraged.
"It would be unprecedented in recent history for the Supreme Court to go a year with a vacant seat," said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.
"Failing to fill this vacancy would be a shameful abdication of one of the Senate's most essential Constitutional responsibilities," Reid added.
The bottom line is simple - Democrats think President Obama was already elected to make this choice.
The immediate political jousting in the hours after Scalia's death only signaled what could be a very contentious next few months on this issue, as the race for President took an unexpected turn on Saturday.
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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com