The US is facing a possible constitutional crisis following the death of supreme court justice Antonin Scalia.
Scalia died on February 13 of natural causes while staying on a luxury ranch in West Texas.
The 79 year old was the leader of the conservative justices, and the longest current serving supreme court justice after being appointed in 1986.
Scalia’s passing leaves a large gap in the supreme court and creates a deadlock, with an equal number of liberal and conservative judges.
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The new justice will need to be approved by a senate majority, which is currently Republican controlled.
Obama is in talks with his staff about potential nominees, but there have been calls from Republicans to postpone the appointment of a new justice until after the 2016 presidential election.
On Tuesday, February 22, during the first sitting of the senate after the Scalia’s death, majority leader, Republican senator, McConnell confirmed the senate would block any attempt by Obama to appoint a new supreme court justice before the presidential election.
McConnell told reporters, “presidents have a right to nominate, just as the senate has its constitutional right to provide or withhold consent. In this case, the senate will withhold it.”
McConnell went on to give reference to the upcoming presidential elections, saying, “the senate will appropriately revisit the matter after the American people finish making in November the decision they’ve already started making today.”
McConnell has support from fellow Republicans, with high profile members of the party such as senator Ted Cruz stating they will not support Obama’s nomination.
This situation contrasts precedent, as eight supreme court justices have been appointed during presidential election years. According to the constitution, the president nominates justices to the court, and the senate uses its “advice and consent” powers to confirm or reject that person.
The Democrats have struck back at these statements, brushing off the Republican reluctance to appoint a new supreme court justice as political game playing. White house spokesman Eric Schultz described the Republican actions as “a lot of bluster, only to have reality ultimately sink in,” giving reference to past battles over the debt limit and the nuclear deal with Iran.
The supreme court deadlock has come at a time when the court is set to decide on crucial cases around abortion, voting rights, and immigration. The upcoming appointment will undoubtedly have a significant influence on the final outcomes.