weather icon Mostly Cloudy

Supreme Court opening draws attention to Senate race

Saturday’s death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia casts a spotlight on the role of the U.S. Senate in allowing — or blocking — nominees for the highest court in the land, and on the high-profile election to succeed Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Some Republicans have vowed to block a nominee from President Barack Obama, hoping their party will win the presidency next November. By delaying a confirmation vote, they could push through a nominee with Scalia’s conservative stature in 2017. Democrats, however, say Obama remains the president with the constitutional power to nominate a new justice.

The partisan battle gives the two most visible Senate candidates an opportunity to set themselves apart from the fray — or join it.

Democratic candidate Catherine Cortez Masto called on the Senate to move forward in supporting any Obama nominee. U.S. Rep. Joe Heck, the leading Republican candidate, in a statement acknowledged the president’s ability to nominate a successor, but noted that the Senate has the right to reject one.

The Senate race is expected to be one of the most expensive and closely watched contests on the national stage. The stakes are higher this year because it’s among a handful where the GOP could pick up a seat this November.

If the GOP-led Senate blocks a nominee for Supreme Court this year, a new Senate in 2017 likely will make the decision on a confirmation.

In a statement, Cortez Masto said Senate Republicans shouldn’t delay the process.

“Voting on presidential appointments isn’t a perk Senators get to enjoy at their leisure — it’s part of their job description,” Cortez Masto said. “Partisan politics should not get in the way of filling a vacancy on the highest court in the land. This isn’t a game — the Supreme Court has important matters it is considering and needs a full court.”

Heck didn’t take a firm position on whether senators should block filling Scalia’s seat until after the presidential election.

“Lifetime appointments are not to be taken lightly or hastily,” Heck said. “It is not uncommon, in the final months of a presidency, for the Senate to wait for the results of the pending election before filling vacancies. The president has the right and prerogative to nominate a successor to Justice Scalia, just as the Senate has the right and prerogative to confirm or not confirm the president’s nominee. Each entity should exercise its prerogative.”

A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., didn’t return messages left Monday.

Caucus looming

In the presidential races, Scalia’s death casts a brighter spotlight on the ability of a potential president to nominate potential Supreme Court justices.

Republicans candidates in the Senate have voiced a willingness to oppose any nominee that Obama brings forward.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, for example, said at the Saturday debate in South Carolina that the Senate “needs to stand strong and say, ‘We’re not going to give up the U.S. Supreme Court for a generation by allowing Barack Obama to make one more liberal appointee.'”

“I do not believe the president should appoint someone,” said U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida at the debate.

Republicans will caucus on Feb. 23 in Nevada to chose their party’s presidential nominee. While the vacancy might come up as the GOP faithful scrutinize candidates, the issue is unlikely to be a key influencer in the caucus.

“I think it will be a caucus issue,” said Jordan Ross, state whip of the Nevada Republican Party. “I don’t think it will be a major one.”

Ross, who isn’t affiliated with or endorsing any of the candidates, noted that Cruz’s experience as a clerk in the Supreme Court will help.

“Ted Cruz probably stands to gain the most because he has the most relevant experience,” Ross said.

Democrats will caucus on Saturday.

On the Democratic side, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton both have said while campaigning in Nevada and elsewhere that they want to undo the Citizens United ruling, a 2010 Supreme Court decision that allows labor unions and corporations to spend outside money trying to influence the outcome of elections.

CNN contributed to this report. Contact Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2904. Find him on Twitter: @BenBotkin1

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Week in Pictures: April 28-May4

Take a look at some eye-catching pictures from Las Vegas Review-Journal photographers in the past week, including Las Vegas Science & Technology Festival, Pirate Fest, weather and Canelo vs. Jacobs. Children play inside a hot air balloon provided by Las Vegas Balloon Rides during the Las Vegas Science & Technology Festival on Saturday, May 4, […]

Week in Pictures: April 21-April 27

Take a look at some eye-catching pictures from Las Vegas Review-Journal photographers in the past week, including Golden Knights playoffs, Raiders draft and WBA lightweight championship bout. The Meadows School third baseman Sam Kaplan looks in a high ground ball during fielding practice, he will play at Cornell University next year on Wednesday, April 24, […]

Week in Pictures: April 14-April 20

Take a look at some eye-catching pictures from Las Vegas Review-Journal photographers in the past week, including Golden Knights playoffs and Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend. The Pink Moon, the nickname for April’s full moon, is not pink at all but yellow and sets in the west behind the Raiders Stadium early on Friday, April […]

Week in Pictures: March 17-March 23

Take a look at some eye-catching pictures from Las Vegas Review-Journal photographers in the past week, including Vegas Golden Knights, Cesar Chavez Day festival, prep baseball and El Cortez shooting. Brooklyn Ruiz, 10, center, of Redlands, Calif., jumps out of the pool while playing with her cousin, Analyce Lopez, 11, of Redlands, Calif., left, and […]

Week in Pictures: March 10-March 16

Take a look at some eye-catching pictures from Las Vegas Review-Journal photographers in the past week, including the West Coast Conference tournament, the Mountain West tournament and the Pac-12 tournament. The Stanford Cardinals celebrate after defeating the Oregon Ducks during a NCAA college basketball game in the final of the Pac-12 women’s tournament at the […]

Week in Pictures: Jan. 14-20

Take a look at some striking pictures from Review-Journal photographers in the past week, including weather features, a boxing match and the super blood wolf moon. Ronald Holmes plays the alto saxophone on The Strip as dark clouds move in on Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, in Las Vegas. Clouds, rain and snow are expected in […]

7 ways autocomplete can get smarter

Autocomplete is one of the best (or depending on how hastily you push ‘send’ – worst) things in the world. We rely on it so much that Google plans to let us autocomplete whole emails. Here are seven ways predictive input can improve. 1. Recognizing names from previous emails Jakub Kokoszka has a tough name to […]

Movie posters might soon be based on your clicks

You may have thought you left Blockbuster behind, but the basic way we browse movies hasn’t changed all that much. We peruse poster after poster, kind of like walking the aisles of a ‘90s-era video store. That one poster image, meant to appeal to as many people as possible, is often all we see before […]

What I’ll be covering at NAB 2018

The National Association of Broadcasters show kicks off this weekend in Las Vegas.  The show focuses on new and emerging technologies and trends in relation to the media and entertainment industries. As it’s not open to the public, I’ll be at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Saturday, Monday and Wednesday to share some of […]