- - Thursday, February 18, 2016

With the tragic passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the choice is clear for Republicans who want to win in November - Sen. Ted Cruz is now the compelling choice to be the GOP nominee, because he has just become the party’s best hope for winning the White House in November.

Scalia’s passing is a real tragedy. He was a man who consistently and ardently defended the U.S. Constitution. His most significant contribution, in fact, may not be the opinions he authored, as cherished as those are, but actually the way he helped shape the court’s approach to the Constitution. Over the past three decades, he faithfully insisted on looking closely at the text of the Constitution, the intent of our nation’s founders, and the historical application of the law, which, to a remarkable degree, propelled the entire court to delve deeply into the Constitution. For that, conservatives will be eternally grateful.

A Reagan appointee, Scalia served on the court for 29 years (for perspective, that is longer than the length of seven presidential terms), and the length of his tenure on the Supreme Court reminds us that judicial nominations are one of the most long-lasting and important aspects of any President’s legacy. President Obama has already left his stamp on the court with his two very liberal nominations: Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, arguably the two most liberal voices on the court today.

His passing leaves a gaping hole in the makeup of the Court.

If President Obama fills that hole, it will be filled with a left-of-center jurist. That would upset the balance of the court, and create a five-justice-strong liberal majority.

That is not politically acceptable - especially not when Republicans are in the majority.

Let’s face it - with Senate Republicans’ determination to stand strong against confirming a new Obama-appointed nominee whose addition to the court to replace Scalia would tip the ideological balance of the court, the question of “Who controls the Supreme Court?” has now been added to the list of Things At Stake in This Election. In fact, it’s risen to the very top of that list.

I’ve scoured the history to books, to no avail. I cannot find a previous election where control of the White House, the U.S. Senate, and the Supreme Court all hung in the balance.

That makes the November elections, quite literally, the most important elections of our lifetimes.

And, given the Supreme Court’s increased prominence as the arbiter of what’s allowable in America today, it is not inaccurate to say that the November elections have just become a referendum on control of the Supreme Court.

The battle to win the majority of voters’ minds on this question will be fought almost as a court case itself, before the bar of public opinion.

If the case is going to be argued like a court case, shouldn’t our side have its best legal mind making the argument?

Is any Republican better prepared to make that argument than Ted Cruz? Hardly.

Mr. Cruz - a Harvard Law-trained clerk to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and successful Supreme Court litigant as solicitor general of the State of Texas - has forgotten more about the Supreme Court than any of his rivals to the presidency will ever learn.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is a canny politician. He knows that when the Court becomes a political issue, Republicans tend to benefit, because millions of conservative voters who no longer think of themselves as Republicans become energized and mobilize themselves to vote for the candidate more likely to see the court’s role and importance as they do - and, consequently, they tend to vote lopsidedly for Republicans.

With the publication of a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that shows the country evenly split on the question of waiting until the next president before confirming a new justice, Mr.. McConnell and his GOP colleagues have little to fear from taking a strong stand.

It’s no secret I’ve had many, many disagreements over the years with Mr. McConnell. But on this issue - waiting until the people have spoken via an election to replace Scalia on the Supreme Court - we are in agreement. And to the extent Sen. McConnell backs up his declaration with action to implement it, I will stand with him.

Saturday’s GOP primary in South Carolina provides an important opportunity for conservatives to choose the candidate with a commitment to preserving Scalia’s legacy on the Court. Mr. Cruz has demonstrated not only an unswerving commitment to the Constitution, but, through his service on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has also displayed an uncompromising style of vetting judicial nominees. Voters can rest assured that a President Cruz would do the same once in the White House - and the GOP would be smart to allow him to make that case.

So let’s get to the business of nominating Ted Cruz, so we can have our best and strongest advocate making our best and strongest argument before the bar of public opinion.

Jenny Beth Martin is the chairman of Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund.

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