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Sen. Ted Cruz raises the prospect of lasting Supreme Court gridlock

 (Brendan Hoffman / Getty Images)
(Brendan Hoffman / Getty Images)

Could the Supreme Court remain a permanent victim of Washington gridlock?

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who famously led the charge that partially shut down the federal government in 2013, raised the specter of leaving an indefinite vacancy on the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

“There is long historical precedent for a Supreme Court with fewer justices," Cruz told reporters while campaigning for a Senate candidate on Colorado. "Just recently, Justice [Stephen G.] Breyer observed that the vacancy is not impacting the ability of the court to do its job. That’s a debate that we are going to have.”

Cruz's comments are another sign that Republicans, increasingly fearing a Hillary Clinton victory, are girding for more trench warfare. Cruz is widely viewed as one of the most conservative senators and one of the least willing to compromise.

But even Arizona Sen. John McCain, who is more of a dealmaker, promised the GOP would be "united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up." His office later added that he would support an up or down vote.  

Though Supreme Court battles are often hard fought, there has long been a bipartisan consensus that the the court needs a full slate of justices. 

The court has operated with eight justices since February, when Antonin Scalia died. Republicans in the Senate have declined to hold hearings for President Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland, saying they should wait until after the election. Cruz's comments suggest the election may not even settle the issue.

But even fellow conservatives have warned against that strategy. Justice Clarence Thomas, was asked about the prolonged confirmation process during a Heritage Foundation event in Washington on Wednesday, according to Bloomberg

"The city is broken in some ways," Thomas said. "At some point, we have got to recognize that we’re destroying our institutions."

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