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Judge’s death triggers new Obama battle

Clash looms as supreme court vacancy offers president chance to fill role with Left-wing successor

By Robert Tait in Los Angeles

THE US Supreme Court was propelled to centre stage of the presidential election this week as Republican candidates strove to stop President Barack Obama choosing a successor judge following the death of talismanic conservative Antonin Scalia.

Mr Scalia, who was the court’s leading conservative and opponent of liberal causes such as gay marriage and extended abortion rights, died in his sleep, aged 79, while on a hunting trip in Texas.

Even as tributes poured in, his death seemed certain to herald an ideological tug of war between the Republican-controlled senate and Mr Obama, who has the constitutional right to appoint a replacement.

The president has an opportunity to give America’s highest court a Left-leaning majority that could reshape vital legal decisions in a liberal direction for a generation.

Republicans, alarmed at the prospect, demanded that Mr Obama, whose presidency has less than a year to run, leave the decision on a replacement to his successor in the White House.

“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next supreme court justice,” said Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican majority leader in the US senate. “Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”

Mr Obama, who has already nominated two liberal judges to the court, made it clear that he had no intention of leaving the choice to his successor.

“I plan to fulfil my constitutional responsibilities to nominate a suc- cessor in due time,” he said. “There will be plenty of time for me to do so and for the senate to fulfil its responsibility to give that person a fair hearing and a timely vote.

“These are responsibilities that I take seriously. They’re bigger than any one party — they’re about a democracy.”

Whoever Mr Obama picks must be confirmed in hearings in the senate, where the Republicans hold 54 out of 100 seats. The president would need 60 votes in the chamber to overcome any filibuster designed to sink his nominee.

There was immediate speculation about whom Mr Obama might nominate to succeed Mr Scalia, a high-profile figure noted for colouring his legal opinions with an “originalist” interpretation of the US constitution.

He published a 23-page view opposing the Affordable Care Act, the president’s landmark health care legislation, nicknamed Obamacare.

Insiders suggested the president might try to nominate a member of an ethnic minority not previously represented on the nine-judge court, or even its first gay justice. One name mentioned was Indianborn Sri Srinivasan, a judge in the US court of appeals and a former lecturer at Harvard Law School.

US primaries: Page 30





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