Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's sudden death has left a unique vacancy on the Supreme Court. Local political science professor P.S. Ruckman says Justice Scalia's passing has created an unexpected scenario in the Supreme Court.
"Absolutely freakish for all these things to intersect in one nomination."
Ruckman says there are key factors that make this situation so rare.
"What we have unusual here is Mr. Scalia died, and typically Supreme Court justices resign when a President of their party is in office. That way they'll be replaced by someone who is in their party."
Now President Obama has one week to use his executive power and make what's called a recess appointment. It's basically an interim justice until the next president is elected this fall.
"Now a recess appointment isn't permanent, but it's something," says Ruckman.
There is another option, President Obama could try to nominate a permanent justice at some point. The Republican controlled Senate would have to approve this. Ruckman says it's unlikely this would happen.
"The failure rate increases if it's the fourth year of the term, and that's what it is. It increases if the opposite party controls the Senate, and it does. That failure increases if the partisan balance of the court is close and currently it's four to four Republicans to Democrats."
Ruckman says many senators hope a newly elected Republican president will choose next year. But, there's always the rare chance that President Obama successfully makes a permanent pick.
"If the President were to make this nomination and it was confirmed, historically it would be one of the most amazing nominations ever in the history of the United States. The cards are definitely in Obama's hands. But once he makes his play, the game is not over. The game goes on and on."
The Supreme Court is now split with four Republican and four Democratic justices. Ruckman says sometimes the anxiety of four-to-four vote splits, can be melodramatic.
"It does send mixed signals because people will say, 'Oh I wish a full court would have done this.' That's a concern, yes, but it's not the biggest disaster in the world."
Ruckman says it's also important to note that in the past, justices will take themselves off certain cases if they have a personal interest in the matter. This will lead to an unbalanced court, so it's not uncommon. However, Ruckman also points out the intense court load the Supreme Court has coming up.
"What's interesting is the four-to-four is going to be considering abortion, affirmative action, there's some big cases coming up."