The Senate tradition at issue when replacing Antonin Scalia

Story highlights

  • Former South Carolina Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond said judicial nominations should not be considered in the period leading up to a presidential campaign
  • Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died this weekend just months before a presidential election

(CNN)In the moments after the news broke of the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Senate GOP leaders immediately made it clear they will not confirm a nominee from President Barack Obama to replace him and are prepared to wait until a new president is in office, keeping in line with tradition that dates back decades.

At issue is the so-called Thurmond Rule -- an informal Senate tradition named for the long-serving former South Carolina Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond -- that says judicial nominations should not be considered in the period leading up to a presidential campaign.
"The fact of the matter is that it's been standard practice over the last nearly 80 years that Supreme Court nominees are not nominated and confirmed during a presidential election year," said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who chairs the Judiciary Committee.
    The Thurmond Rule has been cited -- or conveniently used -- by members of both parties over the years to curb the flow of judicial nominations in an election year, as the party in charge of the Senate works to keep as many lifetime judicial appointments as possible out of the hands of the sitting president from the opposite party.
    Unfortunately for Democrats, there is little they can do to force Republicans to act outside of making their case to the public and hoping Republicans buckle to political pressure.
    Democratic leaders argued it would be irresponsible for the GOP-controlled chamber to wait that long to confirm a new justice.
    "The President can and should send the Senate a nominee right away," said Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid. "It would be unprecedented in recent history for the Supreme Court to go a year with a vacant seat."
    But Republicans -- who are already furious with Obama's many executive actions on climate change, immigration and other issues that go around the will of Republican Congress -- are unlikely to cave.
    "The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement Saturday evening. "Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President."