February 13, 2016
Justice Antonin Scalia, who served nearly 30 years on the Supreme Court, was found dead today at a resort in Texas. He was 79. The vacancy has huge implications for the 2016 presidential and Senate elections.
According to a guest on MSNBC (no link available), Republican-appointed justices have been in the majority of the Court since 1972.
The president nominates Supreme Court justices, who must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
The Court is ideologically divided 4-4 with the vacancy created by Scalia's passing. We obviously have a presidential election this year, and 34 U.S. Senate seats are up for election. The presidential race is likely to be competitive, and it is also close to 50/50 as to who will control the Senate.
This creates an interesting 'game theory' situation. Does President Obama nominate someone now, knowing that if he name someone with his ideological view, that person would have a very difficult time getting confirmed in a Republican-controlled Senate? Or does he nominate a moderate, hoping that person can get approved? Both parties will be reading the tea leaves as the year goes on.
For example, Republicans are already saying (McConnell, Cruz) that the appointment should wait until a new president is in office. However, if it becomes obvious that Democrats will win the White House and take control of the Senate, they might become more accommodating to an Obama nominee as the year goes on.
Ironically, Senator Cruz's statement could work against him, to the benefit of establishment Republicans, if voters conclude that Cruz or other outsiders like Donald Trump can't win in 2016.