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Republican threats complicate Obama replacing Scalia on court

Judge Antonin Scalia, then serving on the United States Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia Circuit, at his office in 1986.Paul Hosefros/The New York Times

(Bloomberg) -- U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would block President Barack Obama from getting a nominee confirmed to replace Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia amid a heated presidential campaign, saying the choice should be left to the next president.

Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate, warned Republicans against trying to run out the clock on Obama’s presidency by holding up any nominee to replace Scalia, who was found dead Saturday at a resort in West Texas.

“The American people‎ should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice,” McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said in a statement. “Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”

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Reid urged Obama to send a nomination to the Senate right away. “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,” he said. “Failing to fill this vacancy would be a shameful abdication of one of the Senate’s most essential Constitutional responsibilities.”

The ferocity of early reactions from McConnell and Reid, barely an hour after Scalia’s death became public, foreshadowed a bitter and bruising political fight over how to replace him, directly in the middle of the 2016 White House campaign.

Scalia was one of the most reliably conservative voices on the divided, nine-member high court of five Republican-nominated and four Democrat-nominated justices. Democrats have suggested the election of a Republican president could tip the court even more heavily with the prospect of perhaps three vacancies in the near term. Hillary Clinton said earlier this month that she would have “a bunch of litmus tests” for the next nominee if elected president.

Scalia’s death changes the balance of the court -– and the argument. If Obama were to nominate a successor and the Senate confirmed him or her, it would make the court a 5-4 court of Democratic nominees.

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