|President Ronald Reagan and Antonin Scalia in 1986|
Washington (CNN) Justice Antonin Scalia's death immediately triggered a monumental election year battle in Washington over whether President Barack Obama should choose a successor that could tilt the Supreme Court toward liberals.
Within two hours of Scalia's death being reported, presidential candidates along with Republican and Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill were feuding over whether Obama should appoint a replacement for the eloquent and outspoken Scalia or wait for the next administration to make a decision. The battle lines underscored the huge political stakes in the 2016 election, which could cement the ideological balance of the court for years to come.
Sources tell CNN that Obama will nominate someone to replace Scalia but Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell insisted the next administration should make the appointment.
"The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice," the Kentucky Republican said. "Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President."
But Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid issued a scathing statement, previewing the heated fight ahead.
"The President can and should send the Senate a nominee right away," Reid said. "With so many important issues pending before the Supreme Court, the Senate has a responsibility to fill vacancies as soon as possible. It would be unprecedented in recent history for the Supreme Court to go a year with a vacant seat. Failing to fill this vacancy would be a shameful abdication of one of the Senate's most essential Constitutional responsibilities."
CNN Senior Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin predicted "one of the great battles in United States history" looms over whether "Obama's nominee even gets a vote."
"The Senate Republicans recognize how important it is to maintain a conservative majority on the court," Toobin said, noting that Obama would leave office in January. "The question will be whether President Obama's nominee, who I expect will come quickly, will get a vote at all in the remaining months of this presidency."
Scalia's death means that the 2016 election could effectively evolve into a battle involving all three branches of the U.S. government, the White House, the Supreme Court and Congress — given that there is a real chance the GOP could lose control of the Senate.
News of Scalia's death broke hours before the latest Republican presidential debate and will add another explosive element to a heated GOP primary campaign. Even before Saturday, the fate of the Supreme Court and the possibility that the next President could get the chance to nominate additional justices due to the age of those on the bench and the possible shift of the ideological balance of the court was already a key election issue.
One of the first Republican candidates to respond to Scalia's passing was Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who eulogized the justice as one of the most "consequential Americans in our history and a brilliant legal mind who served with only one objective: to interpret and defend the Constitution as written."
Rubio also praised Scalia's efforts to defend religious freedom and immediately hiked pressure on Obama to leave the appointment of Scalia to his successor.
"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.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a former Supreme Court clerk for late Chief Justice William Rehnquist, said on Twitter that Scalia was an "American hero."
"We owe it to him, & the Nation, for the Senate to ensure that the next President names his replacement," he tweeted.
The reaction from the Democratic Party's top presidential candidates to Scalia's death will also be carefully watched.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was informed that Scalia had died during a trip to a sports facility in Las Vegas. Clinton routinely casts the possibility that the next President could appoint three to four Supreme Court justices as a reason Democrats need to nominate an electable general election candidate — rather than someone like Bernie Sanders who some establishment Democrats believe may be too liberal to win a national election.
Sanders issued a statement that offered sympathy while acknowledging philosophical differences.
"While I differed with Justice Scalia's views and jurisprudence, he was a brilliant, colorful and outspoken member of the Supreme Court. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and his colleagues on the court who mourn his passing."
White House Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said that the President was informed of Scalia's death during a trip to California.
"The President and First Lady extend their deepest condolences to Justice Scalia's family," Schultz said.
Source: CNN, Stephen Collinson, Feb. 14, 2016
President Obama to Nominate Successor to Justice Antonin Scalia, Despite Republican Objections
President Obama, in his first public comments after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, announced that he would nominate a replacement, overriding Republicans’ contentions that any nomination should wait until after the next president takes office.
President Obama, in a brief statement Saturday evening:
"Obviously, today is a time to remember Justice Scalia’s legacy. I plan to fulfill my constitutional responsibility to nominate a successor in due time. There will be plenty of time for me to do so and for the Senate to fulfill its responsibility to give that person a full hearing and timely vote."
Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump called on Senate Republicans to block any effort by President Barack Obama to nominate a successor to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
Trump, who called Scalia's death a "tremendous blow to conservatism," called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to slam on the brakes.
"It's called delay, delay, delay," Trump said at the final Republican debate before the South Carolina primary.
Earlier Saturday, Obama said he would act "in due time" to replace Scalia, whose sudden death was announced Saturday.
"There will be plenty of time for me to do so and for the Senate to fulfill its responsibility to give that person a fair hearing and a timely vote," Obama said.
Sources: The New York Times, CNN, Feb. 13, 2016