Election News

Supreme Court vacancy highlights stakes in presidential race

Bernie Sanders, who is challenging Clinton for the Democratic nomination, has raised opposition to Citizens United as a requirement for any Supreme Court nominees.

Scalia, a hero of conservatives during his nearly 30 years on the Supreme Court, was found dead Saturday at a resort ranch in Texas. The court now is divided between four liberal and four typically conservative justices, putting the ideological tilt up for grabs.

Obama pledged to nominate a replacement in “due time,” even after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said that responsibility should fall to the winner of the 2016 election.

Obama could try to ram a nominee through the Senate this year, taking a high court vacancy off the next president’s immediate to-do list. Even if that were to happen, a confirmation vote probably would be months away, leaving the Supreme Court in the center of the campaign during the nomination process.

Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who served in the Cabinet of President George W. Bush, said Monday that Obama has an obligation to select a replacement for Scalia, telling CNN that “the president has to do his job.” Gonzales said that the Senate, likewise, has a role and should weigh Obama’s choice “on its own calendar.”

With three other justices over the age of 75, the next president could have other vacancies during his or her tenure, even if Obama fills Scalia’s seat.

It’s unclear how the new focus on the Supreme Court might affect voters’ decisions in an election that has seen surprising and unconventional candidates such as Trump and Sanders challenge their parties’ establishments.

Previous political thunderbolts that were supposed to push voters toward more traditional candidates, such as last fall’s terrorist attacks in Paris and California, passed without any negative impact on Trump and Sanders. In fact, Sanders has gotten stronger since then, with the economic-focused Vermont senator handily defeating Clinton in the New Hampshire primary and finishing a close second in the Iowa caucuses.

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