The unexpected death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia threw a curveball at presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders on Saturday night in Denver.
Both were scheduled to speak at the 83rd annual Democratic Dinner at the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel when the news broke, followed shortly by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's announcement that he would block any appointment to the court made by President Barack Obama.
Clinton, the first to speak, said her "thoughts and prayers" were with the Scalia family, but she was quick to add, "It is outrageous that Republicans in the Senate and on the campaign trail have already pledged to block any replacement that President Obama nominates."
She added, "Now I'm sure we'll all have a lot more to say about this in the coming days, so let me just make one point: Barack Obama is president of the United States until January 20, 2017. That is a fact, my friends, whether the Republicans like it or not."
Clinton went on to dispel excuses for not confirming a new justice in Obama's term. She noted that the longest successful confirmation process in the past four decades was for Justice Clarence Thomas, and lasted roughly 100 days, and that an election-year confirmation is also not unheard of. Justice Anthony Kennedy, she noted, was confirmed in 1988, an election year (though it should be noted that Kennedy was nominated in late 1987 to fill a vacancy).
Sanders, who spoke at the dinner following a rally in Denver (his campaign estimates that more than 18,000 people attended the rally), was also quick to show concern about the Scalia situation.
"It appears that some of my Republican colleagues in the Senate have a very interesting view of the Constitution of the United States," he told the crowd. "Apparently, they believe that the Constitution does not allow a Democratic president to bring forth a nominee to replace Justice Scalia. I strongly disagree with that."
He added, "The Supreme Court of the United States has nine members, not eight. We need that ninth member."
Both candidates covered a wide range of other issues, touching on Democratic talking points like health care, poverty, the environment and women's rights. Sanders listed statistics about the plight of the poor and minorities in our country, and attacked the role of money in political campaigns.
Clinton emphasized women's rights and said she was appalled by the Black Friday shooting at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood, adding the "shooter should have never had that gun in the first place."
"It's become ordinary for women to got through metal detectors just to get an annual exam, " she said. "Think about that for a minute. That is so outrageous. We all deserve better."
While Clinton has made women's rights a theme of her candidacy, Sanders also came out strong on the issue, chastising Republicans for their anti-choice stance.
"[Republicans] hate the federal government, except when it comes to the right of a woman to make a very personal decision," he said. "In that case, they just love the federal government telling every woman in America what she can do with her own body."