As Jeet Heer noted, the sudden death of 79-year-old Antonin Scalia has the potential to alter the ideological balance of the Supreme Court, which has been a bastion of conservatism during the Obama era. The problem for the administration is that his death comes at a time when the Republican Party controls the Senate. In past years, the president would have had a much better chance of getting his nomination through, under the precedent that the legislature defers to the executive’s Supreme Court choices. But amidst heightened polarization, that precedent has steadily eroded; only five Republican senators in 2010 voted to confirm Obama’s last SCOTUS nominee, Elena Kagan.
When you throw an election year into the mix, the possibility arises that Senate Republicans will block any nomination until the next president is sworn in. Already, they are under pressure to do just that, even if that will mean leaving the court with only eight justices for some 11 months at least.
Carroll, a staffer for Senator Mike Lee of Utah, also pointed to this.