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Feb 15, 2016 4:44 PM

Landrigan: US Supreme Court vacancy after Scalia's death a flashpoint in NH race for Senate

NEWFIELDS - Like his philosophy or not, Supreme Court Judge Anton Scalia will be remembered for three decades as one of the smartest and principled members of the nation's high court.

Now the partisan battle is on to succeed him, and it’s clearly reached down to the Granite State.

Maybe it’s fitting the death of the conservative lion on the Supreme Court touches off a sharp dispute in New Hampshire’s Senate race over how to replace him.

Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan says the time is now to fill the vacancy.

"Well I really think it’s important the Senate work with the White House to find a consensus candidate,’’ Hassan told NH1 News.

Read: NH1 News first to report Hassan statement on SCOTUS Senate battle

Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte says the 2016 White House election should come first.

"So in my opinion we should wait on the confirmation process until the people of this country speak and select a new president," Ayotte said.

Hassan says naming this justice could unite the country.

"We know that there are lot of important issues before the court and having a 4-4 tie on the court will not help us break the partisan divide," Hassan said. "It will only exacerbate it.’’

Ayotte says she’s not been divisive.

"Well I have a very strong record of confirming nominees and I have been very fair in evaluating the nominees of this President,’’ Ayotte said.

An NH1 investigation found that Ayotte has a point.

She voted to block a pro-abortion judge in 2011 but supported a liberal for a Minnesota judgeship last month and backed Obama’s nominees for attorney general and defense secretary.

Hassan says Ayotte is contributing to gridlock on Capitol Hill.

"I’m disappointed," Hassan said. "Her priorities should be priorities that will serve the people of New Hampshire and justice delayed is justice denied in some cases."

Ayotte says the Supreme Court can survive nearly a year without a full complement.

Before becoming the state’s first woman attorney general, Ayotte was a clerk to the late New Hampshire Supreme Court Justice Sherman Horton.

"My sense is the court will act responsibly and they will ensure that they address the cases in the most narrow grounds,’’ Ayotte told NH1 News.

"If there are cases in which they are divided they will decide them on narrow grounds and basically leave them for another day.’’

Can President Obama find a Dave Souter-like nominee Republicans can’t refuse? Unlikely.

In the meantime this raises the temperature of an already white hot Senate race.

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