Antonin Scalia, Leader of the Supreme Court’s Conservative Wing, Dies at 79

By Andrew Peng, Nicholas Zhao Rui, Lizi Xiong and Rachel Forrester

This content was originally published on the Campaigner.
Published at 5:30 a.m. EST, updated at 7:25 p.m. EST

UPDATE (9:00 p.m. EST) — President Barack Obama will introduce a nominee to replace late Justice Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court, he said in an address to the nation late Saturday.

”I plan to fulfill my constitutional responsibilities to nominate a successor in due time,” Obama said, calling Scalia, 79, a “larger than life presence on the bench.”

“These are responsibilities I take seriously as should everyone,” he noted.

Scalia “influenced a generation of lawyers, judges and students,” the President continued. “Tonight, we honor his extraordinary service to our nation and honor one of the most towering legal figures of our time.”

President Obama did not say who he would nominate.

HOUSTON, Texas — Associate Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the leader of the Supreme Court’s conservative wing and a giant in judicial history, has died at the age of 79, according to Chief Justice John Roberts. Texas Governor Greg Abbott confirmed the news in a statement released late Saturday.

Federal officials said that Justice Scalia, the first Italian-American on the Supreme Court, was found dead of apparent natural causes on Cibolo Creek Ranch, a luxury resort in the Big Bend region south of Marfa, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

Scalia reportedly arrived at the ranch on Friday. When he did not appear for breakfast, a person associated with the ranch went to Scalia’s room and found the body.

Scalia’s passing has the potential to transform the political landscape and discussion in the next few weeks, and could spark a grueling ideological showdown in Congress and on the campaign trail. His death accompanies the loss of the 5–4 conservative majority in the Supreme Court in the midst of a contentious presidential election, making the next nomination battle a particularly consequential one.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) slammed the brakes on any hope for a new justice under President Obama, arguing that, “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.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, agreed with McConnell, making it unlikely that President Obama will be able to fill the vacancy within the remainder of his term.

“The fact of the matter is that it’s been standard practice over the last 80 years to not confirm Supreme Court nominees during a presidential election year,” Grassley said. “Given the huge divide in the country, and the fact that this President, above all others, has made no bones about his goal to use the courts to circumvent Congress and push through his own agenda, it only makes sense that we defer to the American people who will elect the next president to select the next Supreme Court Justice.”

While he has the ability to appoint a nominee for Scalia’s seat, President Obama must obtain a simple majority vote in the Senate — an unlikely feat given its Republican majority. 

An Outpouring of Tributes

Reaction to the news was immediate and widespread regardless of political affiliation.

“He was an extraordinary individual and jurist, admired and treasured by his colleagues,” Justice Roberts said in a statement. “His passing is a great loss to the Court and the country he so loyally served.”

“The president and first lady extend their deepest condolences to Justice Scalia’s family,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said. “We’ll have additional reaction from the president later today.”

Governor Abbott praised Scalia as a man of good, a patriot, and “an unwavering defender of the written Constitution.”

“We mourn his passing, and we pray that his successor on the Supreme Court will take his place as a champion for the written Constitution and the Rule of Law,” Abbott said.

“While I differed with Justice Scalia’s views and jurisprudence, he was a brilliant, colorful and outspoken member of the Supreme Court. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and his colleagues in the court who mourn his passing,” Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders said.

“A champion of our liberties and a stalwart defender of the Constitution, he will go down as one of the few Justices who single-handedly changed the course of legal history,” said presidential candidate Texas Senator Ted Cruz. “As liberals and conservatives alike would agree, through his powerful and persuasive opinions, Justice Scalia fundamentally changed how courts interpret the Constitution and statutes, returning the focus to the original meaning of the text after decades of judicial activism.”

Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump called Scalia’s death “a massive setback for the conservative movement and our country.”

“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,” Trump said.

Former President George W. Bush also commented on Scalia’s passing, saying: “He was a towering figure and important judge on our Nation’s highest court. He brought intellect, good judgement, and wit to the bench, and he will be missed by his colleagues and our country.”

“Whether or not you agreed with him, Justice Antonin Scalia served our nation with deep patriotism and distinction on the Supreme Court for nearly 30 years, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California). “He has been one of the strongest voices in the great American debate around our Constitution. He leaves behind a formidable record of jurisprudence, and a fierce articulation of his understanding of the Constitution.”

“There is no doubt Justice Antonin Scalia was a brilliant man,” wrote Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada). “We had our differences and I disagreed with many of his opinions, but he was a dedicated jurist and public servant.”

“The President can and should send the Senate a nominee right away,” Senator Reid continued. “Failing to fill this vacancy would be a shameful abdication of one of the Senate’s most essential Constitutional responsibilities.

A Conservative Legacy

Scalia’s impact on the court will be felt for generations to come — from cases dealing with gun ownership to the the right to privacy. Known for colorful and provocative, yet elegant opinions, and as a staunch opponent of abortion and affirmative action, Scalia served as a transformational force on the Court.

In his 2008 majority opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller, Scalia, who joined the court’s conservative wing, ruled that banning handguns and prohibiting firearms from being “kept functional in the home” was a violation of the Second Amendment, a decision that continues to be the center of the gun control debate to this day.

Scalia argued that the phrase “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state” within the text of the Second Amendment was an introductory rather than a restrictive clause, a concept that completely overturned precedent by applying the Second Amendment more broadly.

Scalia also voted with the court’s majority in the contentious Bush v. Goredecision, which effectively sealed President George W. Bush’s victory over his Democratic opponent Al Gore, as well as the controversial Citizens Unitedruling, which overturned a prohibition on independent campaign expenditures by corporations, non-profit organizations, and unions.

Having been nominated to the Supreme Court in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan and confirmed with a unanimous 98–0 vote by the Senate, Scalia was, at the time of his passing, the Senior Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.

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