Control of the US Supreme Court has taken centre stage in the country’s presidential campaign with the death of one of its most conservative judges.
Arguments are raging over the nomination of a successor to Justice Antonin Scalia whose sudden death was announced on Saturday. The court normally has nine judges, and before his demise it had a conservative 5-4 majority.
Democratic President Barack Obama has claimed his constitutional right to nominate a candidate despite nearing the end of his term. He has said he will not do it straight away but wait until the US Senate is back in session.
The prospect drew swift and furious comments from Republican candidates during a televised debate as they vie with each other to be elected president in November. They think the vacancy should not be filled until Obama’s successor takes office next January.
Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have called on Obama to move quickly and to name a replacement which will tip the balance of the nine-member court in favour of liberals after several years of favouring conservatives due to the 5-4 majority.
In the past the court has successfully stalled major efforts by the Obama administration on climate change and immigration.
However appointing a liberal replacement for Scalia is not straight forward. Whoever Obama proposes he will have to get it passed the Republican-led Senate raising the prospect of a major political showdown.