Saturday evening, the presidential candidates began responding to the shocking news that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had passed away. While some simply expressed condolences, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) promised unprecedented obstruction in the nominating process.
In his initial tweet, Cruz insisted that President Obama not be allowed to name Scalia’s successor:
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.
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) February 13, 2016
The candidate issued a longer statement shortly thereafter praising Scalia as “one of the greatest Justices in history,” adding that he was “a champion of our liberties and a stalwart defender of the Constitution” and that “he will go down as one of the few Justices who single-handedly changed the course of legal history.” Though he praised Scalia further — in particular for his decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, which overturned several gun violence prevention provisions — he did not further elaborate on his expectations for the nomination process.
Rubio also issued a statement that completely dismissed the possibility that Obama still has the better part of a year left in which to nominate a new Justice, instead referring to how “the next president” must approach such a process:
Today, our nation has suffered a deep loss. Justice Scalia was one of the most consequential Americans in our history and a brilliant legal mind who served with only one objective: to interpret and defend the Constitution as written. One of the greatest honors in my life was to attend oral arguments during Town of Greece v. Galloway and see Justice Scalia eloquently defend religious freedom. I will hold that memory forever. The next president must nominate a justice who will continue Justice Scalia’s unwavering belief in the founding principles that we hold dear. Jeanette and I mourn the loss of Justice Scalia, and our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Maureen and his family.
Dr. Ben Carson praised Scalia for his “towering intellect and trenchent wit,” noting that “he has angered Americans on both the left and the right, but he has never wavered in his dedication to the Constitution.” He joined Cruz and Rubio in demanding that the nomination not take place until a new president is elected:
It is imperative that the Senate not allow President Obama to diminish his legacy by trying to nominate an individual who would carry on his wishes to subvert the will of the People. Given the dire condition our democracy currently finds itself under Obama’s ideological agenda, I call on the Senate to stop any attempts to fill this crucial seat until We The People elect a strong Constitutionalist this November.
Rubio, Cruz, and Carson’s comments echo Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) insinuation that the Senate will block any of Obama’s nominees: “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President.”
Calling him a “remarkable person and a brilliant Supreme Court Justice, one of the best of all time,” Trump praised Scalia for his “reverence for the Constitution and his legacy of protecting Americans’ most cherished freedoms.”
Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) said that he was “deeply saddened” by Scalia’s death, calling it a “serious loss to our nation and the Court.”
He went on to say that Scalia was “an essential, principled force for conservative thought and is a model for others to follow. His dedication to the Constitution and love for and service to our country will be deeply missed.”
Governor Jeb Bush also issued a brief statement praising Scalia, but like Trump and Kasich, he avoided taking a position on who should fill the vacancy:
Today we lost a great man whose principled service left our nation vastly better off. This afternoon at Mass, Columba and I prayed for Justice Scalia, who was devout in faith and has been brought home to God in heaven. Our prayers are also with his wife, Maureen, his children and his 28 grandchildren.
Justice Scalia was a brilliant defender of the rule of law — his logic and wit were unparalleled, and his decisions were models of clarity and good sense. I often said he was my favorite justice, because he took the Constitution, and the responsibility of judges to interpret it correctly, with the utmost seriousness. Now it is up to all of us to fight for the principles Justice Scalia espoused and carry fourth his legacy.
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders also offered his condolences, acknowledging that he did not agree with many of Justice Scalia’s positions.
“While I differed with Justice Scalia’s views and jurisprudence, he was a brilliant, colorful and outspoken member of the Supreme Court,” Sanders said in a brief statement, adding, “My thoughts and prayers are with his family and his colleagues on the court who mourn his passing.”
In a statement Saturday evening, Secretary Clinton praised Scalia as a “public servant who brought energy and passion to the bench.” She rebuked Senate Republicans promising to block a nomination, saying that they “dishonor our Constitution. The Senate has a constitutional responsibility here that it cannot abdicate for partisan political reasons.”