Battle building over who selects Scalia’s successor: Obama or the next president

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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia speaks at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) October 2, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Justice Antonin Scalia’s death broke with seismic force over Washington Saturday, setting up a monumental election year battle over whomever President Barack Obama chooses to succeed him with a nomination that could tilt the Supreme Court toward liberals.

Scalia, who was found dead on Saturday, was one of the most influential conservative justices in history and forged a decades-long legacy that prolonged Ronald Reagan’s conservative revolution, long after the President who nominated him left office.

That reputation alone means the departure of the hugely influential, outspoken and eloquent associate justice will create political tumult. Scalia was also seen as a hugely powerful foe by liberal groups owing to his positions on issues like abortion and the Second Amendment, and those groups will pile enormous pressure on Obama to send a liberal justice to the Court before he leaves office.

But Scalia’s death in an election year raises the stakes even higher, setting up a titanic confirmation fight over his successor on the bench. The already challenging task of getting a Democratic president’s nominee through a Republican-controlled Senate will made even more difficult as the fight over Scalia’s replacement will emerge as a dominant theme of an already wild presidential campaign.

“His departure leaves a huge political fight in the offing because this is a Court with five Republican appointees (and) four Democratic appointees,” said legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

“There will be one of the great battles in United States Senate history over whether President Obama’s nominee even gets a vote.”

“The Senate Republicans recognize how important it is to maintain a conservative majority on the court,” Toobin said, noting that Obama would leave office in January.

“The question will be whether President Obama’s nominee, who I expect will come quickly, will get a vote at all in the remaining months of this presidency.”

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