Antonin Scalia has passed away

In a statement from the U.S. Supreme Court, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia has passed away. He was 79.

Justice Scalia was in Texas with friends for a hunting trip, according to news reports. He went to bed Friday Night telling his friends he wasn’t feeling well. On Saturday Morning he didn’t join them for breakfast so they left without him. Later in the day someone at the ranch went to look in on him and found Scalia unresponsive.

In the statement from the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Roberts said, “He was an extraordinary individual and jurist, admired and treasured by his colleagues,” Roberts said. “His passing is a great loss to the court and the country he so loyally served. We extend our deepest condolences to his wife Maureen and his family.”

U.S. Marshals were arranging for his return to Washington, DC for funeral arrangements.

President Obama was informed of Scalia’s passing Saturday afternoon, and Deputy White House Press Secretary Eric Schultz told reporters, “The President and First Lady extend their deepest condolences to Justice Scalia’s family. We’ll have additional reaction from the President later today.”

Scalia’s History

Justice Antonin Scalia official SCOTUS portrait
Justice Antonin Scalia
official SCOTUS portrait

President Ronald Reagan appointed Scalia to the court  in 1986 and his confirmation was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate. For the past 30 years Justice Scalia has been the conservative anchor of the U.S. Supreme Court, the one who held to the belief that the U.S. Constitution should only be interpreted literally, as it was written more than 200 years ago.

He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1960 and worked at private firms until he was hired by the Nixon Administration as the General Counsel for the Office of Telecommunications Policy in 1971. He worked for the Ford Administration after Nixon resigned from the presidency and when Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford  in 1976, Scalia returned to academia, becoming a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, where Barack Obama would eventually become a professor.

In 1982 President Reagan brought him back into public service by appointing Scalia to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1982. Reagan appointed him four years later to the Supreme Court.

Conor Clarke of Slate described Justice Scalia’s style this way: “His writing style is best described as equal parts anger, confidence, and pageantry. Scalia has a taste for garish analogies and offbeat allusions—often very funny ones—and he speaks in no uncertain terms. He is highly accessible and tries not to get bogged down in abstruse legal jargon. But most of all, Scalia’s opinions read like they’re about to catch fire for pure outrage. He does not, in short, write like a happy man.”

Others have described his opinions as “entertaining.”

Scalia will be remembered for authoring the decision in District of Columbia v. Heller in which he stated the Second Amendment protected a person’s right to own a firearm in their home, which ended the district’s ban on handguns. He called the decision to make same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states a “threat to American democracy.”

More recently (December 2015) Scalia raised eyebrows when, in oral arguments for an affirmative action case concerning the University of Texas, he suggested that maybe some African-Americans weren’t suited for top-tier universities. “There are those who contend that it does not benefit African-Americans to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a less — a slower-track school where they do well. One of the briefs pointed out that most of the black scientists in this country don’t come from schools like the University of Texas.”

When attorney Gregory G. Garre tried to speak, Scalia cut him off, saying, “They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they’re being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them. I’m just not impressed by the fact that the University of Texas may have fewer. Maybe it ought to have fewer. And maybe some — you know, when you take more, the number of blacks, really competent blacks, admitted to lesser schools, turns out to be less.”

It didn’t matter to Justice Scalia that his point had already been rejected by the high court.

Political Ramifications

The U.S. supreme Court, at the time of Justice Scalia’s death. Top row, left to right: Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen G. Breyer, Samuel A. Alito and Elena Kagen. Bottom row, left to right: Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
The U.S. supreme Court,
at the time of Justice Scalia’s death.
Top row, left to right: Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen G. Breyer, Samuel A. Alito and Elena Kagen.
Bottom row, left to right: Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

In this election year the justice’s death will set off a firestorm of political debate as the president announces his pick to take Scalia’s place on the bench. It is likely the Republican-controlled Senate, which will have to confirm the president’s nomination, will make it difficult for President Obama to appoint anyone.

In a statement to the press, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) indicated his desire to stall the confirmation, and once again stand in the way of the president, as he vowed to do seven years ago when President Obama first took office. “The American people‎ should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) fired back, “With so many important issues pending before the Supreme Court, the Senate has a responsibility to fill vacancies as soon as possible. It would be unprecedented in recent history for the Supreme Court to go a year with a vacant seat. Failing to fill this vacancy would be a shameful abdication of one of the Senate’s most essential Constitutional responsibilities.”

Over the past seven years the Republican Party has done everything possible to slow down and even shut down the government, and stopping the selection of a Supreme Court Justice would be a continuation of their strategy to try and make President Obama’s two terms a failed presidency, according to critics on the left.

Justice Scalia is survived by his wife Maureen, and nine children.

Top photo President Reagan with Antonin Scalia after his appointment to the court.
Photos via Wikipedia