The death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia last weekend is now a topic in the 2016 presidential races. Earlier this week, the now Republican front runner, Ted Cruz began running an ad attacking Donald Trump. Cruz suggests issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage and gun rights would all be at risk if Trump were elected and allowed to select a new justice.
Tuesday night journalists from across the country gathered at the University of South Carolina for a panel discussion on the election races. Echoed by all was the sentiment that the death of Scalia has become the centerpiece of this year's race for the Oval Office.
Craig Melvin, the host of MSNBC Live, suggested this issue will be big for the candidates because the importance of the Supreme Court is widely understood.
"People understand the Supreme Court," Melvin said. "People get that this is perhaps the key vote. This is the vote that changes gun control. This is the vote that changes women's reproductive rights."
Dean of USC's School of Journalism and Mass Communications Charles Bierbauer, who moderated Tuesday's debate, reflected on his time covering SCOTUS for CNN and suggested that the vacancy of Scalia's seat on the bench could leave the court dead locked on key issues.
"The court has nine justices for a valid reason, you get five to four votes on close issues. If you have an even number, eight, the risk is you get a four to four vote. In which case, the court is not making any decision whatsoever," Bierbauer said.
The risk of an even vote adds a sense of urgency to the court, which is scheduled to review several cases involving voting and gun rights during this session. These latest developments come as Washington prepares to honor Scalia, who President Obama called, "a brilliant legal mind."
Scalia's seat will eventually be filled, but, Bierbauer says the justice's personality will be difficult to replace on the bench.
"It was fascinating to watch arguments before the Supreme Court. Not just because of Scalia but to a great degree because you never quite knew what he would say," Bierbauer said.