'The most consequential political battle of the last 20 years' has already broken out over Scalia's replacement

The political battle to replace US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in his sleep Saturday at a Texas ranch at the age of 79, is set to be perhaps the “most consequential … of the last 20 years.”

That is according to veteran Republican strategist Rick Wilson, who was one of many analysts weighing in on the political ramifications of Scalia’s unexpected death Saturday.

Many seemed to agree that it will be difficult for President Barack Obama, who will now be tasked with choosing a nominee to replace Scalia, to get his appointment through a polarised Senate in an election year.

NBC chief legal analyst Pete Williams said he would be “very surprised” if the vacancy was filled before October, when the Supreme Court begins its 2016-2017 term.

“I would be very surprised, frankly, if a vacancy can be filled in time for the next term to start when it starts in October,” Williams said, according to RealClearPolitics.

Legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin told CNN that Scalia’s “departure leaves a huge political fight in the offing.”

“There will be one of the great battles in United States Senate history,” to replace him, he added. The question will be whether President Obama’s nominee … will get a vote at all in the remaining months of his presidency,” Toobin said.

Indeed, a battle has already begun between top Republicans and Democrats over whether a nominee should be appointed before or after Obama leaves office in January.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) said in a statement that the “American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice.”

“Therefore,” McConnell added, “this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President.”

McConnell’s statement is important, since as majority leader he has large control over what comes up on the Senate floor. And he was largely backed up by his rank and file Saturday.

Scalia had served 30 years since being appointed in 1986 by Ronald Reagan. He was widely known for his staunch conservative legal philosophy, and many Republican presidential candidates have said he is the type of juror they would look to appoint to the high court.

Conn Carroll, the communications director for Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT),
said on Twitter that the chances of Obama successfully appointing a Supreme Court justice to replace Scalia are “less than zero” — a sign of the polarising fight to come.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a presidential candidate, said on Twitter that “we owe it” to Scalia and the nation “for the Senate to ensure that the next President names his replacement.”

But in a preview of the battle set to hit Washington, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) released his own statement shortly thereafter slamming the notion that the Senate should wait to fill Scalia’s seat.

“The President can and should send the Senate a nominee right away,” Reid said. “It would be unprecedented in recent history for the Supreme Court to go a year with a vacant seat.

He added: “Failing to fill this vacancy would be a shameful abdication of one of the Senate’s most essential Constitutional responsibilities.”

ScaliaGetty Images/Spencer PlattJustice Scalia at a Columbus Day parade.

CNN is reporting that Obama intends to nominate a candidate to fill Scalia’s vacancy, but the Presidet has not yet released an official statement.

Under Article II of the Constitution, the president has the power to appoint Supreme Court justices — but only with the “advice and consent of the Senate.” Typically, the candidate appointed by the president has to answer questions in a hearing before a Senate Judiciary Committee before he or she is given a vote from the full chamber.

Since President Gerald Ford’s term in office, it has taken an average of 67 days for a president to nominate a candidate to that candidate receiving a final Senate vote, according to the Congressional Research Service. Because it is an election year, however, the process is bound to be even more politicized and lengthy than usual.

For perspective, the last time a sitting Supreme Court Justice died during a presidential election year was Justice Joseph Lamar in 1916 — and it took his successor, Louis Brandeis, 125 days to be confirmed by the Senate (the longest in history.)

President Obama has 342 days left in office.

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