Scalia, an icon of conservative legal thought, almost certainly will — and should — move to the top of the debate agenda. Expect moderator John Dickerson to give each of the six candidates some time at the outset to offer a reflection on Scalia's legacy. And look for Ted Cruz, in particular, to share some personal memories; the Texas senator overlapped with Scalia when he clerked for the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist in 1996.
But CBS should then move the discussion into forward-looking territory. It is possible that the responsibility to nominate Scalia's successor will fall to the next president; even if President Obama manages to get a justice of his own choosing confirmed before the end of his term — something Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) indicated Saturday night won't happen — the winner of November's election could be making another nomination soon, given the near-record age of the court's members.
So what qualities would the GOP candidates look for in a Supreme Court justice? Who might be on their preliminary lists? Would they make selections with an eye toward reversing Roe v. Wade? What about same-sex marriage? Citizens United?
I suspect the candidates will want to bloviate about how important it is to stop Democrats from winning the White House and shifting the balance of the court. Until Scalia's death, the court's composition was basically even, with John Roberts, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito joining him on the conservative side; Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer and Sonya Sotomayor comprising the liberal wing; and Anthony Kennedy representing the swing vote. Replacing Scalia with a liberal justice would tilt the nation's highest judicial body to the left.
But Dickerson should do his best to push the candidates off this talking point. It's obvious and, while it might fire up the crowd and make Republican voters appreciate the importance of the upcoming election, it won't help them decide which candidate has the best vision of what a Supreme Court justice should be.
Drawing out some clarity on how the candidates would handle appointments should be priority No. 1 for CBS.