The sudden passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia will not transform President Barack Obama's final year in office or the race to elect his successor. But it will change them.
The effects will be largely subtle and on the margins. The future of a closely divided Supreme Court was always destined to become a significant issue in the presidential campaign this fall. Yet now it will matter sooner, and will ripple across Capitol Hill and the battle for control of the Senate in 2017 as well.
The most immediate impact already became evident in the Republican presidential debate that took place in South Carolina just hours after the stunning news about Justice Scalia broke on Saturday.
It advantaged U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who is both an experienced Supreme Court litigator and is casting himself as the foremost conservative in the Republican race. For next Saturday's primary in South Carolina, one of the most conservative states in the nation, that allows him to make the most persuasive arguments about championing the Scalia legacy that is intensely popular on the right.
In Washington, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Obama immediately opened a contest between immovable object and irresistible force. McConnell vowed not to move forward with the confirmation of any choice the president might make. Obama vowed to nominate someone anyway.