When a Supreme Court seat is vacated in the U.S., the President nominates a candidate and the Senate votes to confirm the appointment.
Such a situation recently presented itself.
Justice Antonin Scalia passed away
On 13th February 2016, Justice Scalia was found dead from an apparent heart attack in a hotel room in Texas. His death has led to a vacant seat in the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court is now ideologically split
With four liberals, three conservatives and one swing vote, Supreme Court decisions could now be split four and four. This would lead to the lower court decisions being upheld, without setting a nationwide precedent for issues like abortion, immigration policy and religious liberty.
For the purpose of explanation
A conservative is to a Republican, as a liberal is to a Democrat. *
*Don’t hold us to this.
Republicans want to wait, and let the new President (who may be a Republican) appoint the new Justice
Justice Scalia was a resolute conservative and therefore his decisions swung the Republican way on many occasions. If President Obama (a Democrat) were to nominate Scalia’s replacement, the nominee would most likely be a liberal and would swing decisions the Democratic way.
Constitutionally, President Obama must nominate a new Supreme Court Justice
President Obama said that it is his fundamental constitutional task to do so, even though the Republicans called to defer the nomination.
But the Republican majority in the Senate have vowed to reject this nominee
And have publically promised to block the President’s nomination. To avoid this from happening, Obama should pick an “indisputably qualified” candidate, whom the Senate will have no excuse to block.
The nomination will only come after the Senate is back in session (ie: February 22nd onwards)
But some speculate it will come sooner.
If Obama’s nominee is selected, the Supreme Court could get more liberal. But if that’s not the case, the American people may be making a decision on more than one position in the upcoming elections.
Also read, about the US Supreme Court’s decision on abortion.