Why You Can't Blame Republicans For Resisting Obama's Attempt To Replace Scalia

Two hours. That's how long the mourning lasted before American politicians started bickering over a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

It didn't take long before partisans on both sides of the political divide began the fight over how -- and crucially, when -- the late Supreme Court justice would be replaced.

Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was first out the gate in declaring that Republicans wouldn't allow President Barack Obama to nominate a replacement for the late justice. The senator suddenly struck a populist tone as he said Americans "should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice," as if justices are appointed by referendum.

"Therefore," McConnel said, "this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president."

McConnell was quickly followed by his Democratic counterpart, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who took a different route. Reid tried to shame the Republican majority into approving the selection of a lame duck president with 10 months and change remaining in office.

"Failing to fill this vacancy would be a shameful abdication of one of the Senate's most essential Constitutional responsibilities," Reid said.

Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida, who are both presidential candidates always looking for an opportunity to butter up the base, said they'd block any Supreme Court candidate nominated by Obama.

To prevent the president from making a recess appointment, the Republican senate will hold what's called a pro forma session. That's Latin for, "keep the lights on while we do nothing," and it means the Senate will technically remain in session specifically for the purpose of blocking any temporary replacement for Scalia.

Not to be outdone, former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton began wagging her finger within a day of Scalia's death, saying Republicans would be shirking their responsibilities to the American people if they refuse to confirm an Obama appointment.

And so it will go, back and forth, in a game of chicken that will last until January.

In reality, you can't blame the Republicans for trying to delay the appointment of a new justice until the next presidential term.

After eight years of Obama, GOP leaders think they have a strong chance of regaining the White House thanks to Democrat-weary voters. The fact that the presumed Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, is the subject of an ongoing scandal and an FBI investigation only makes the Republicans like their chances more.

On the other side, Democrats are salivating. This may be their best chance to tip the ideological balance of the Supreme Court for the foreseeable future.

With the Supreme Court set to hear several crucial cases, the task becomes more urgent. The makeup of the court could decide whether Obama's immigration reform plan becomes a part of his legacy, or a failure that becomes a footnote in his presidency. The court is also set to hear arguments from religious groups that oppose the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandates, which has become an ideological flashpoint in the never-ending battle over social issues.

The only thing that could stop the stand-off is if voters begin to perceive the Republicans as obstructionist. If that happens and Republicans believe it will hurt their chances in the November presidential election, it's conceivable that they could fold, allowing Obama to send an appointment for confirmation in the waning days of his presidency, according to Tom Goldstein, who writes the SCOTUS Blog.

In the meantime, the Republicans will do everything in their power to stop Obama's nominations, and the Democrats will do everything they can to help the president get his man or woman on the bench. If the situation were reversed, Democrats would be stalling and Republicans would be outraged.

If that seems ugly, with the battle lines drawn even before Scalia's family has had a chance to bury the late jurist, well, that's because American politics are ugly.

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Sources: NBC News, SCOTUS Blog, USA Today, CNN / Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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