CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) - U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died over the weekend of natural causes and no autopsy was necessary. And now, a bitter battle is erupting over who replaces him on the High Court. Even Illinois Democrats are using the issue to try and unseat Senator Mark Kirk.
Senator Mark Kirk has said nothing about the Supreme Court succession struggle after the death of Scalia, issuing only the following bland written statement:
"Scalia was a giant in the history of American jurisprudence. His legacy and contribution to our nation will long endure. The political debate erupting about prospective nominees to fill the vacancy is unseemly, let us take the time to honor his life before the inevitable debate erupts."
Kirk is now facing fire not only from Democrats, but also from conservatives in his own party who are angry that Kirk favors gay rights and is pro-choice on abortion.
“Our position on Sen. Kirk at this point is no endorsement,” Paul Caprio told FOX 32 News.
Democrat Tammy Duckworth faces two challengers in next month's U.S. senate primary, but sought to link Kirk to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other senate Republicans. They've declared they won't approve any Supreme Court nominee submitted by President Obama.
In a written statement, Duckworth said, "Sen. Mark Kirk must let us know whether he'll be a rubber stamp for (Sen.) Mitch McConnell's obstructionist and unconstitutional gambit."
Activists who are pro-choice on abortion and favor gay rights -- such as Terry Cosgrove -- demand Kirk support Senate hearings on an Obama Supreme Court nominee.
“If Sen. Kirk does not call for the replacement to take place, then it looks like he's siding with all the horrible, right-wing Republicans at the national level,” Terry Cosgrove said.
That's laughable to some who proudly call themselves conservative Republicans and don't care for Kirk at all.
“There are some Republicans who say, ‘well, we're gonna hold our nose and vote for Mark Kirk because we do want the Republicans to control the Senate. However, this year, because of the level of anger we see at the grassroots, I think you will probably see many conservatives who say, ‘we're not gonna go down that path again,’” Caprio said.
Mark Kirk has previously said his critics on the left and right is a badge of honor, proof of what he calls his “social issue moderation and his fiscal conservatism.” It may not be so easy this year, though. Kirk's widely considered the most endangered senate incumbent in the whole country.
The three Democratic candidates in next month's primary - U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, former Chicago Urban League CEO Andrea Zopp and state Sen. Napoleon Harris - said during a live-streamed Chicago Sun-Times endorsement session that the nomination process should begin immediately under President Barack Obama.
"It tugs at the democracy of our nation to not have this justice appointed," Harris said.
Funeral plans for Scalia, 79, haven't been released yet. His casket will be on public view in the U.S. Supreme Court's Great Hall on Friday.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, has said the winner of the presidency in November, should fill the vacancy. GOP incumbents facing tough races in other states, including Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, New Hampshire and Ohio, have followed suit.
But Obama has said it's his constitutional duty and Democrats have said that denying Obama the chance to pick a replacement would be an unprecedented step.
Zopp, a Harvard Law School graduate, said no matter who picks the nominee, there's no guarantee of how a new justice would evaluate cases - and jurists' views can evolve. She said for Republicans to hold up the process now would be a mistake.
"It is so typical of the challenges that we have in Washington," she said.
Duckworth said the fact that Kirk had not weighed in on the replacement process was "a disservice" to the public.
The winner of the March 15 primary is likely to face Kirk, who's considered a heavy favorite to win a GOP primary against lesser known candidate James Marter, a businessman.