WASHINGTON — News of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death was just hours old before the debate started heating up. Republicans argue the Senate should wait until a new president is elected to confirm a replacement while Democrats argue President Barack Obama has an obligation to confirm a replacement.
“We have a battle over the president and now we have a new battle superimposed over that for a nominee to the Supreme Court,” said Metro State University Denver professor of political science Norman Provizer.
Justice Scalia was appointed to the Supreme Court by Republican President Ronald Reagan. After Justice Scalia’s passing, the nation’s highest court is now comprised of four Republican-appointed Justices and four Democratic picks.
“There is a strong division on the (Supreme) Court that was basically a 5-4 decision and this is going to throw that up in the air for a while,” Provizer said.
The process of appointing a new justice starts with the president’s nomination, and then it has to be confirmed by a vote in the Senate. The majority of the president’s nominations are confirmed, but there have been denials in the past.
“When your opponents control the Senate sometimes they sit around and think we can delay this for a while and not name anyone, and maybe our guy can win the election and our side will get to name a person,” Provizer said.
Republicans Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz who want to wait and see how America votes in the November election.
“That’s a real gamble on the part of the Republicans if they choose to follow that strategy because there’s a substantial chance they lose seats (in the Senate) in November and their hand isn’t as strong as it is now,” University of Denver political science professor Peter Hanson said.
While Democrats are saying they can’t wait nine months until a new president is appointed.
“The court has a lot of pressing business and it would hurt the court not to have a ninth justice during the next several months,” Hanson said.
If cooler heads can prevail and an agreement can be reached, President Obama will appoint his third Supreme Court Justice. But if that doesn’t happen …
“We’re into uncharted territory,” Hanson said. “We’ve never had a vacancy for that long and it would certainly be unfortunate for the court because they have a lot of important cases and need a new justice.”
Until then, the Supreme Court will have eight justices and the potential of 4-4 votes.
“It renders the Supreme Court powerless and that’s a terrible position for the nation’s highest court to be in,” Hanson said. “That’s why the vacancy needs to be filled as soon as possible.”