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FEDERAL | GOP Refuses to Appoint Scalia’s Replacement

Senate Republicans have promised to block President Obama's nomination to fill the vacancy left by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died at the age of 79. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has stated that the position will remain unfilled until after the 2016 election, and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which receives the appointments, has stated that he will support McConnell's decision. Any nominee to the seat would need 60 affirmative votes to proceed to final confirmation. While McConnell and other senior GOP members place pressure on their party, it is not yet clear whether Republicans facing tough election races will be able to hold the party line. If the Obama administration can find at least 14 Republicans to support their nomination, they may be able to overcome the GOP's opposition.

This standoff between the two parties represents an escalation of recent tensions surrounding judiciary nominations, as the GOP has declined to approve any of the president's appeals court level appointments. Typically the president will submit names for preapproval to the Senators in the state that houses an appeals court seat vacancy. However, at least one Republican Senator representing states with open vacancies and those Senators are steadfastly refusing to sign off on President Obama's nominations. The Senate Judiciary Committee generally will not schedule a hearing for the nominee without the approval of both Senators.

President Obama only has confirmed one appointment since the Republicans took control of the Senate in January 2015. Beginning last month, the President broke this cycle and submitted nominees for four of the appeals level court vacancies, without the approval of the Republican Senators representing those states. There has been no progress in their nominations.

Regardless of whether the seat of Justice Scalia remains unfilled through November, the Supreme Court will continue to conduct business, with a number of issues at stake – including a case regarding abortion clinics and another challenge by religious organizations to the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate. Should the eight remaining justices provide a 4-to-4 ruling, the appeals court ruling stands.

Nominated by President Reagan in 1986, Scalia was confirmed to the bench by the Senate in a unanimous vote, 98 to 0. Following the retirement of Justice Stevens in 2010, Scalia became the longest-serving member on the current court.