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Ohio Democrats, Portman spar on Scalia replacement

COLUMBUS — Ohio Democrats are criticizing U.S. Sen. Rob Portman for his statement advocating a delay in the confirmation of a replacement for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Scalia, 79, died in his sleep of natural causes at a resort in Texas on Sunday. His death created a vacancy on the court that would upset the 5-4 conservative tilt that has been in place since 1991.

Senate Republicans and Majority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, have vowed to block any nominee President Barack Obama names to the position and have sought to keep the seat vacant until after the presidential election in November.

Portman issued a statement Monday agreeing with the position of Republican leadership.

“We are in the midst of a presidential election and a vigorous debate within both political parties on the direction of the country, with the election less than nine months away,” Portman said. “I believe the best thing for the country is to trust the American people to weigh in on who should make a lifetime appointment that could reshape the Supreme Court for generations.”

Portman said this position isn’t unusual.

“It is common practice for the Senate to stop acting on lifetime appointments during the last year of a presidential term, and it’s been nearly 80 years since any president was permitted to immediately fill a vacancy that arose in a presidential election year.”

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper issued a statement on Monday in response to Portman.

“Ohio voters, and the country, elected President Obama in 2012 to a four-year term,” Pepper said. “The Constitution makes perfectly clear how a nomination is to be filled during that term, with no exceptions. Senator Portman’s statement that the nomination should only come after the next election dishonors the Constitution, not to mention the voters of Ohio. It’s a shame to see him prioritize his party’s politics of obstruction above the constitution and the well-being of our country.”

Portman’s expected opponent for the general election this year, former Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, called on the senator and his Republican colleagues to “do their jobs.”

“This is bigger than politics or parties,” Strickland said. “It’s about the institutions of our democracy. We cannot allow a seat on the Supreme Court of the United States to stand vacant for the sake of these kinds of crass political calculations.”

The last justice to be confirmed by the Senate in an election year was Anthony Kennedy in 1988, by a Democratic majority 97-0. Kennedy, who was nominated by Republican Ronald Reagan in November 1987, was the third nominee chosen to fill the vacancy left by Justice Lewis Powell Jr., who retired from the court in June 1987. Reagan nominated Robert Bork to fill the position, but his nomination was rejected by the Senate. Reagan’s second pick, Douglas Ginsberg, withdrew his name from nomination.

The last nominee to be both nominated and confirmed in an election year was Benjamin Cardozo, who was nominated by Republican Herbert Hoover in 1932 and confirmed by a Republican majority the same year.

Despite Republican objections, Obama has said he will nominate a replacement to the position. An announcement is expected to come after this week’s Senate recess comes to an end.