WASHINGTON — Justice Antonin Scalia’s death has given President Obama a tantalizing opportunity to reshape the Supreme Court, but cementing a lasting legacy on American jurisprudence will present a familiar challenge: breaking the will of Republicans.
On Monday, Senate Republicans — including some who are up for re-election in swing states — appeared to be closing ranks with Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, who has vowed to block any nominee from Mr. Obama and has said that he should not even suggest one, leaving the choice to the next president.
Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, who faces re-election this year, backed that position on Monday. “It is common practice for the Senate to stop acting on lifetime appointments during the last year of a presidential term, and it’s been nearly 80 years since any president was permitted to immediately fill a vacancy that arose in a presidential election year,” he said in a statement. Senator Pat Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, who also faces re-election, said he, too, backed a delay.
Senator Kelly Ayotte, Republican of New Hampshire, who faces a primary threat from the right wing of her party, said over the weekend that she supported Mr. McConnell. And several conservative groups have begun to mobilize around the issue, which is already animating activists.
Congressional Democrats, mindful of the long-term implications of the court pick, have begun to strategize about how to pressure Republicans to at least permit a nominee to receive a hearing. They plan to argue on the Senate floor that Republican-nominated judges have not been delayed as long as Republicans have suggested, and they plan to set up an online clock that will start the day Mr. Obama chooses his nominee.
The looming clash on Capitol Hill is a testament to the stakes: A president has a chance to establish a clear liberal majority on the Supreme Court. That could shift the direction of legal thought on a wide range of issues like climate change, gay rights, affirmative action, abortion, immigration, gun control, campaign finance and labor unions.
Some Democrats expressed confidence that they could build public pressure on the Republicans to give Mr. Obama’s nominee a hearing.
“The idea of not even allowing a hearing strikes a chord that is pretty deep,” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, said. “It will mount; it will get much stronger when the president has a nominee.”
But other allies of the president said they expected Republicans to hold firm, given the court’s crucial role and the intensity of feelings among conservatives. David Axelrod, who was a senior adviser to Mr. Obama, predicted that Mr. McConnell and the other Senate Republicans would be “implacable” on the issue for the rest of the year.
Source: The New York Times, Feb. 15, 2016