Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia dies

The influential and often controversial conservative supreme court justice Antonin Scalia was found dead of natural causes in his West Texas home early Saturday, February 13. From the AP's Mark Sherman:  

The U.S. Marshals Service in Washington confirmed Scalia's death at a private residence in the Big Bend area of West Texas. Spokeswoman Donna Sellers said Scalia had gone to his room the previous evening and was found dead Saturday morning after he did not appear for breakfast.

A gray hearse was seen at the entrance to the Cibolo Creek Ranch, near Shafter, on Saturday accompanied by an SUV. The two-car caravan pulled out onto U.S. 67, which runs between wide stretches of dry, ochre winter fields. A man sat guard near a brown stone wall at the entrance to the ranch, the West Texas mountains rising in the background.


Seventy-nine years old at the time of his death, Justice Scalia was originally appointed to the court by Ronald Reagan in 1986. He was well known as a strict constitutionalist  who argued for originalism and usually led the opinion on conservative rulings in recent years. He received his bachelor's from Georgetown University and studied law at Harvard. He is survived by his wife Maureen McCarthy and their nine children.

Known for his scathing tongue in written arguments Scalia presided over numerous important decisions before the court and was the longest serving justice in recent years. One of the most important moments during his tenure was when he decided in favor of President George W. Bush in the landmark Bush v. Gore case which decided the 2000 presidential election. Scalia was later famous for telling critics of the decision to, "Get over it."

His death leaves a vacancy on the court's bench that is certain to cause controversy in the days to come. According to the AP, republican senators Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio all stated a desire for the next president to choose a replacement, while early reports from the New York Times state that it is believed that President Obama intends to name a successor to the position.

If President Obama doesn't choose a successor or manage to have his choice go through the approval process by the time he must vacate office, it is very likely that this opening will provide further impetus for voters to choose an upcoming presidential candidate based on potential elect-ability rather than ideology.

More immediately though, Justice Scalia's death leaves the court with a general 4-4 split between liberal and conservative judges that is likely to result in tie decisions. If a court case comes out a tie at the SCOTUS level, it effectively upholds the ruling of the lower court, and all opinions issued are considered non-binding.

With major cases currently before the court, including Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt which concerns abortion, and United States v. Texas concerning immigration law, this shift in the balance of power in the court is likely to cause serious ramifications for some years to come.