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The Senate Battle That Looms For Scalia's Replacement


The death of Justice Scalia will almost certainly have implications for the presidential campaign. And it's almost certain to come up in tonight's Republican debate in South Carolina. Joining us to talk about some of the possible ramifications of is Domenico Montanaro, NPR's lead political editor. Domenico, have the candidates had anything to say yet?

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Well, hi, Michel, and you bet they have. They were scrambling on social media to get statements out - Republicans praising Antonin Scalia, calling him one of the best justices of all time, from Jeb Bush; similar statement from Ted Cruz. Bush said that he would fight for the principles that Scalia espoused. And, you know, you can guarantee that it's likely to come up, as we said, in this debate tonight.

MARTIN: I don't know that - as I think most people probably know that South Carolina is a conservative state, particularly on the Republican side. Were issues like abortion and gun control expected to come up before this development?

MONTANARO: Well, they're always, you know, a couple of the motivating factors for some of the more conservative candidates in South Carolina. I mean, certainly, you know, South Carolina has that reputation. And you - for someone like Donald Trump, it's going to be really interesting to see how he parries the obvious attacks that are going to be coming on him tonight about this because earlier this year - last year, he had told an interviewer that his sister would make a phenomenal choice as a Supreme Court justice. She's on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. Now, the problem there, conservatives went kind of nuts about that because his sister is pro-choice. And she had rejected a late-term abortion ban in New Jersey, saying that it was unconstitutionally vague. He, of course, though said she wouldn't be a pick that he could make. But he's going to probably have to defend himself most likely from someone like Jeb Bush, who went after him immediately for that when he first said it.

MARTIN: So two questions we want to be sure we get from you, Domenico, before we let you go. First of all, so we talked about the Republican side. What about the Democratic side? What about Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders? And of course, the big question will be whether President Obama gets to choose a successor in his final year in office. So if you could take both of those, we'd...


MARTIN: ...Appreciate it.

MONTANARO: Well, the thing is with this election, this now heightens the political, you know, stakes here for sure because saying well, a president could appoint a Supreme Court justice was sort of, you know, vague in the minds of people. But this makes it a 4-4 court. The next person to appoint a justice will have sway over some of the most controversial issues of our time, socially for sure. And Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have said that they want somebody who's going to be fiercely against having an open season on money in politics. You know, they talk about the Citizens United ruling, which opened the floodgates for super PACs and the like. So both of them would want to appoint somebody who would have more restrictions on that. Now, Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader on the Republican side, said that the American people should have a voice in the next pick. And this vacancy, he said, should not be filled until there's a new president. Now, what that means is if that were happen - there are some 300-plus days left in the Obama presidency - if that were to happen, where the Republicans in Congress would not confirm anybody who President Obama were to put forward, that would likely be the longest wait ever for a Supreme Court justice that was nominated.

MARTIN: That's Domenico Montanaro, NPR's lead political editor. Domenico, thanks so much for speaking with us.

MONTANARO: Thank you as always, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
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