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Scalia's Death Brings Supreme Court Into Spotlight Of Presidential Race

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The Democratic presidential candidates have said for months that the Supreme Court is an important issue in this race. They had no idea how true that would turn out to be. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith joins us to discuss the impact of Justice Antonin Scalia's death on the Democratic side of the race. Welcome back.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Thank you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Remind us first what Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have said about the high court.

KEITH: Well, for a long time, Sanders has talked about having a litmus test for Supreme Court nominees if he's president. They would have to overturn the Citizens United campaign finance ruling. Clinton...

SHAPIRO: Hillary Clinton has said the same thing, yeah?

KEITH: Exactly, in an interview with you, in fact.

(LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: Right.

KEITH: But she's also talked more broadly about the court and about the importance of having a Democratic president to tip that balance of the court. Of course, now it's real. There's a vacancy. And so she's been talking about that more yesterday. She met with a group of dreamers. These are the young people who came to the country illegally as children but are now here with a legal status because of executive actions President Obama has taken.

SHAPIRO: And the Supreme Court has said it's going to review those executive.

KEITH: The Supreme Court is reviewing executive actions on immigration that president Obama took in 2014. Those actions likely affect many of these young people's parents more than the young people themselves. And Hillary Clinton said that case pending before the court is yet another reason why she believes a Democrat needs to replace President Obama.

SHAPIRO: OK, so this court opening is throwing into sharp relief some other issues besides the court, from campaign finance to immigration to clean energy and things like that. Generally, Hillary Clinton is often described as the more pragmatic candidate while Bernie Sanders is described as more idealistic. Do you see that playing out in this debate over the future of the court?

KEITH: Well, presidents have always had to balance idealism versus pragmatism when making Supreme Court nominations because they have to make it through the Senate, those nominees. And often, the Senate is divided, as it is now. It's narrowly divided in favor of Republicans. President Obama, in the past, has chosen judges with inspiring life stories and relatively moderate records. We don't know what he'll do this time, but the first question that Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders will get about that is, would you have made the same choice and questions like, who would you choose; what would your nominee look like?

SHAPIRO: And do you have a sense that Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, based on their public statements, would nominate different kinds of people? You've said they have the same litmus test of overturning Citizens United.

KEITH: A litmus test that President Obama has not expressed any support for, necessarily (laughter). You know, it - I guess I don't know the answer to that question. I think it depends, you know, once they're in office, what the dynamics are at the time. I think that this nomination will be yet another chance for Hillary Clinton to hug closer to President Obama, as she has done in the past. And a very interesting dynamic here is Bernie Sanders is a current senator. He is a member of the United States Senate. If the Senate actually does take up this nominee, he'll get a vote.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Tamara Keith. Thanks, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.