Following the death of Conservative US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a new focal point to the 2016 election year has emerged, as Republicans and Democrats argue over who should appoint his successor.
Scalia, 79, was found dead on Saturday morning at a luxury resort in Texas where he had been spending the weekend, Reuters reports.
There has been an outpouring of grief and sadness for Scalia, who was appointed to the Court by President Ronald Reagan in 1986, with Chief Justice John Roberts calling him an “extraordinary individual and jurist.”
“The president and first lady extend their deepest condolences to Justice Scalia’s family,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said in a brief statement.
With the Supreme Court now split with four Democratic-appointed justices and four Republican-appointed ones, a major political showdown between the two parties has already emerged as to who should appoint Scalia’s replacement.
Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz took to Twitter to say “we owe to him [Scalia] and the nation” to hold-off on appointing his replacement.
These sentiments have been echoed by others in the party, including from Cruz’s rival Marco Rubio.
“The next president must nominate a justice who will continue Justice Scalia’s unwavering belief in the founding principles that we hold dear,” Rubio said in a statement.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also rowed in behind Cruz and Rubio.
“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice,” McConnell said in a statement. “Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”
Conn Carroll, communications director for Utah Republican Mike Lee, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, stated it would be almost impossible for Obama to successfully appoint a replacement for Scalia.
This is not the view on the Democratic side of the aisle, however, from where calls for Scalia’s replacement to be announced sooner rather than later can already be heard.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has said it would be “unprecedented in recent history” for such a vacancy to be left for so long.
Senator Patrick Leahy, also a member of the Judiciary Committee, has said it is “sad news to suggest that the President or the Senate should not perform its constitutional duty.”
“The American people deserve to have a fully functioning Supreme Court. The Supreme Court of the United States is too important to our democracy for it to be understaffed for partisan reasons,” he said in a statement.
The general public has also weighed in on who should appoint Scalia’s replacement with equally mixed opinions.
As expected, some have sided with the Republicans stating the country would be “screwed” if Obama chooses his successor.
On the other hand, some say blocking Obama’s nominee could very well drive more people to vote for a Democrat in the general election later this year.
Seen by many as a leader in conservatism, Scalia was the first Italian-American appointed to the top court and was known for interpreting the constitution exactly as worded, without taking modern context into consideration.
“The Constitution that I interpret and apply is not living but dead, or as I prefer to call it, enduring,” he said. “It means today not what current society, much less the courts, thinks it ought to mean, but what it meant when it was adopted.”
Scalia was opposed to affirmative action, abortion, and same sex marriages. He was often scathing in his remarks on such issues, describing the latter as a “threat to American democracy.”
In 2015, Scalia wrote a scornful 21-page dissent on the court’s upholding of Obamacare, describing the decision as “interpretive jiggery-pokery,” a “defense of the indefensible,” and “pure applesauce.”
A devout Roman Catholic, Scalia was also dismissive of evolution, stating that it was “not a scientific fact,” and, in fact, a “guess, and a very bad guess at that.”
In 2008, Scalia wrote the majority opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller, stating citizens did, in fact, have a constitutional right to own a gun, which resulted in the striking down of Washington DC’s ban on handguns.