The 2016 election just got a lot more important. The death of Justice Antonin Scalia means President Obama has an unexpected vacancy to fill in the Supreme Court. It is a vote that could decide crucial issues like gun control and abortion.
But Obama will need approval for his nominee from the Republican-controlled Senate. And with the 2016 presidential election just nine months away, Republicans may be inclined to dig in their heels and find reasons to reject to anyone Obama supports.
Republicans hope, of course, that their party’s candidate will win in November and they will be able to drag out the nomination fight long enough for that candidate to name Scalia’s replacement. Is it in bad taste to say all this when Scalia has just died? Don’t kid yourself into thinking that Democrats and Republicans alike aren’t already feverishly calculating. If Republicans succeed in delaying a new Justice’s appointment, the 2016 presidential race will be one to choose not just a president but the direction in which the Supreme Court will swing — potentially for years to come. Scalia has been arguably the most consistent conservative voice on the bench. Justice Anthony Kennedy has leaned left on some issues and right on others. That means if a Democrat chooses the next justice, the court will likely have a much more liberal bent than it has had in years.
Now presidential candidates on both sides have a new talking point. Republicans will argue that voters can’t trust Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders to decide which way the court will go. They will bandy about the names of various liberal boogie men their supporters don’t want to see on the bench, such as Bill Clinton. Expect Sanders and Clinton to do the same, substituting the names of conservatives that liberals regard as pariahs. It will likely start tonight with the Republican debate.
Big donors who have sat out the election so far, including in Hollywood, will need to suddenly take interest. The election is no longer about whether voters are completely happy with any individual candidate. Are they fundamentally liberal or fundamentally conservative? Which way do they want the the country to go?
Now we have no choice but to take a stand.