Moments ago the judicial world was hit with what is the most significant news since the passage of Obamacare, when the San Antonio Express first reported that one of the more, if not most, conservative Supreme Court Justices, Antonin Scalia, was found dead of apparent natural causes Saturday on a luxury resort in West Texas, federal officials said. Scalia, 79, was a guest at the Cibolo Creek Ranch, a resort in the Big Bend region south of Marfa.
According to the initial report, Scalia arrived at the ranch on Friday and attended a private party with about 40 people. When he did not appear for breakfast, a person associated with the ranch went to his room and found a body. Chief U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia, of the Western Judicial District of Texas, was notified about the death from the U.S. Marshals Service.
U.S. District Judge Fred Biery said he was among those notified about Scalia's death.
"I was told it was this morning," Biery said of Scalia's death. "It happened on a ranch out near Marfa. As far as the details, I think it's pretty vague right now as to how," he said. "My reaction is it's very unfortunate. It's unfortunate with any death, and politically in the presidential cycle we're in, my educated guess is nothing will happen before the next president is elected."
A federal official who asked not to be named said there was no evidence of foul play and it appeared that Scalia died of natural causes.
According to CNN, Scalia died in his sleep. A government official said Scalia went to bed Friday night and told friends he wasn't feeling well. Saturday morning, he didn't get up for breakfast. And the group he was with for a hunting trip left without him. Someone at the ranch went in to check on him and found him unresponsive.
The U.S. Marshal Service, the Presidio County sheriff and the FBI were involved in the investigation. Officials with the law enforcement agencies declined to comment.
A gray Cadillac hearse pulled into the ranch last Saturday afternoon. The hearse came from Alpine Memorial Funeral Home.
Texas governor Abbott confirmed the news:
Scalia was appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1986, one of two Supreme Court justices appointed the republican president.
The image below shows why a supreme court justice may be as important as a standng US president :
Ok look I made a graphic so you can see how important this is. POTUS --> SCOTUS. pic.twitter.com/b2JHPqEI2j— Hanna Brooks Olsen (@mshannabrooks) February 10, 2016
With Scalia's passage, SCOTUS will have 8 justices, Sotomayor, Breyer, Kagan, Ginsburg, Kennedy, Thomas, Alito, Roberts, divided evenly into ideological camps. This is important because when the Court divides 4-4 the lower court opinion is affirmed without creating any Supreme Court precedent.
More importantly, this means that Obama will now attempt to fast-track the appointment of another supreme court justice, although it is unlikely the GOP controlled Senate will approve it. The longest vacancy in Supreme Court history was 29 months when the Senate kept rejecting President Tyler's choices.
Replacing Scalia with a liberal justice could change the balance of the court under Chief Justice John Roberts. If a new justice is not confirmed under Obama, this is something both parties are likely to trumpet as the 2016 contest continues.
Initial indications suggest that the GOP will bottleneck any Obama appointment: as Conn Carroll, top staffer for Mike Lee, a Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee,just tweeted, Obama's chances to appoint a third Supreme Court justice are not looking good.
What is less than zero? The chances of Obama successfully appointing a Supreme Court Justice to replace Scalia?— Conn Carroll (@conncarroll) February 13, 2016
As the Hill adds, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott released a statement calling the conservative justice an "unwavering defender" of the Constitution.
"He was the solid rock who turned away so many attempts to depart from and distort the Constitution," Abbott wrote. "His fierce loyalty to the Constitution set an unmatched example, not just for judges and lawyers, but for all Americans.
Scalia, born in Trenton, N.J. and raised in Queens, N.Y., was nominated by President Ronald Reagan in 1986 after serving on the D.C. Circuit Court.
The judge was a proponent of "originalism," the legal philosophy that held that the meaning of the Constitution should be interpreted as it was first written and not subject to contemporary views.
Scalia was also known for the colorful opinions he issued. In a dissent in King v. Burwell, the landmark healthcare case that upheld the Affordable Care Act, he referred to the majority's reasoning as "pure applesauce" and "jiggery-pokery."
"On behalf of the court and retired justices, I am saddened to report that our colleague Justice Antonin Scalia has passed away. He was an extraordinary individual and jurist, admired and treasured by his colleagues," Chief Justice 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."
"I would like to offer my sincerest condolences to the Scalia family after the passing of Justice Scalia. Justice Scalia was a remarkable person and a brilliant Supreme Court Justice, one of the best of all time," Donald Trump remarked. "His career was defined by his reverence for the Constitution and his legacy of protecting Americans’ most cherished freedoms. He was a Justice who did not believe in legislating from the bench and he is a person whom I held in the highest regard and will always greatly respect his intelligence and conviction to uphold the Constitution of our country. My thoughts and prayers are with his family during this time."
Justice Scalia was a defender of the constitution, an important conservative voice in the court. He will be missed. https://t.co/cOB3juvx7A— Dr. Rand Paul (@RandPaul) February 13, 2016
Jeanette & I mourn the loss of Justice Scalia, and our thoughts & prayers are with his wife Maureen & his family. pic.twitter.com/e03KRZRM6q— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) February 13, 2016
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Update: as expected the Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia should not be replaced until after the presidential election.
As the Hill notes, since McConnell sets the Senate's schedule, his remarks signal the GOP's intent to not confirm any nominee offered by President Obama.
“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice," he said in a statement. "Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President.”
Democrats have already called on the Senate to take a vote on a nominee replacing Scalia, who died Saturday in Texas. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said it would be "unprecedented" for the Senate to wait until next year to confirm a new justice.
To be sure, Obama will try to offer a replacement: it remains to be seen whether the Senate wil fold to the president's whims, as it so often has in the past 7 years.