Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died on Saturday at the age of 79. Replacing a SCOTUS justice is always an extremely divisive and heated process, so the question of who would take over for Scalia came up immediately after the news of his death broke. Hours before the GOP debate in South Carolina kicked off, Republican presidential candidates said the next president needs to choose Scalia's replacement — not President Obama. Of course, presidents tend to choose justices that closely align with their beliefs, so the Republicans were worried about the conservative judge being replaced by someone with more liberal leanings. Update: According to the New York Times, Obama has indicated that he plans to choose Scalia's replacement promptly.
Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio were among those advocating for the new SCOTUS appointment to be put off until President Obama leaves office next January. Cruz tweeted Saturday: "Justice Scalia was an American hero. We owe it to him, & the Nation, for the Senate to ensure that the next President names his replacement." Marco Rubio also praised Scalia for being "one of the most consequential Americans in our history" in a statement released Saturday, and said: "The next president must nominate a justice who will continue Justice Scalia’s unwavering belief in the founding principles that we hold dear." Both candidates are hoping to be the one to appoint a new judge.
Supreme Court justices are nominated by the president, and then the Senate holds confirmation hearings and votes on said nominee. Since the Senate's currently controlled by Republicans, the representatives could vote down President Obama's choices and postpone the appointment until a new president takes office in 2017. There's no official timeline for replacing a judge, but SCOTUS is currently working on cases that may require a ninth justice to break a tie. Waiting a year or more to appoint Scalia's replacement could severely slow down the court's proceedings and postpone decisions on important cases in an already slow court system.
Nevertheless, it will be difficult for President Obama to successfully put a new justice on the bench in the current political climate surrounding the 2016 election. Cruz and Rubio weren't shy about voicing their wishes for the Senate to nix Obama's nominations in order to ensure Scalia is replaced by another conservative. Waiting until a new president is sworn in could yield the same results though — if a Democrat is elected in November, all the waiting would have been for nothing. Cruz and Rubio are putting a lot of faith in their party's victory in this election.