Supreme Court vacancy highlights stakes in presidential race

President Barack Obama speaks to reporters about the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia at Omni Rancho Las Palmas in Rancho Mirage, Calif., Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016. Scalia, 79, was found dead Saturday morning at a private residence in the Big Bend area of West Texas.

President Barack Obama speaks to reporters about the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia at Omni Rancho Las Palmas in Rancho Mirage, Calif., Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016. Scalia, 79, was found dead Saturday morning at a private residence in the Big Bend area of West Texas. AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

WASHINGTON (AP) — The presidential election just got real.

The unexpected death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia — and the immediate declaration from Republicans that the next president should nominate his replacement — adds even more weight to the decision voters will make in November’s general election.

For months, the candidates have espoused theoretical, sometimes vague, policy proposals. Now, the prospect of President Barack Obama‘s successor nominating a Supreme Court justice immediately after taking office offers a more tangible way for voters to evaluate the contenders.

Candidates in both parties moved quickly to reframe the election as a referendum on the high court’s future.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz released a new television advertisement Monday warning voters that conservatives are “just one Supreme Court justice away” from losing on issues including “life, marriage, religious liberty, the Second Amendment.” The spot also suggests GOP front-runner Donald Trump would nominate more liberal justices and includes clips of the real estate mogul saying he’s “very pro-choice.”

Democrat Hillary Clinton painted a similarly stark scenario about what’s at stake.

“If any of us needed a reminder of just how important it is to take back the United States Senate and hold onto the White House, just look at the Supreme Court,” Clinton said.

Clinton has said she would have “a bunch of litmus tests” for potential nominees, including a belief that the Citizens United ruling clearing the way for super political action committees and unlimited campaign contributions should be overturned. She also said the court’s makeup is crucial to preserving abortion rights and the legality of same-sex marriage nationwide.

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