By Philip Wegmann ~
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died from natural causes while visiting friends in West Texas on Saturday morning. He was 79.
Shortly after, Chief Justice John Roberts released a statement saying he was “saddened to report” the passing. He wrote of the justice:
He was an extraordinary individual and jurist, admired and treasured by his colleagues. His passing is a great lost to the court and the country he so loyally served. We extend our deepest condolences to his wife Maureen and his family.
Scalia’s passing creates a vacancy at the Supreme Court during a presidential election year. And with 268 days left in office, President Barack Obama will need to decide how to handle a delicate situation with a Republican-controlled Senate that must confirm a new justice. Pressure has already been mounting on Senate Republicans to halt all of the White House’s judicial nominees.
It has been more than 80 years since a Supreme Court justice was confirmed by the Senate during an election year.
Traditionally, the Senate follows the unofficial Thurgood-Leahy rule, halting all judicial nominees during the final six months of an outgoing president’s term.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.,released a statement calling for Scalia’s seat on the court to remain open.
“The American people should have a voice in the selection of the next Supreme Court Justice,” he wrote. “Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”
President Reagan nominated Scalia in 1986, making him the first Italian-American to ever serve on the high court. The Senate unanimously confirmed his appointment, 98-0.
Only two senators abstained from voting, Republicans Jake Garn of Utah and former presidential candidate, Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona.
An undergraduate of George Washington University in Washington D.C., Scalia graduated from Harvard Law School in 1960, before serving later in both the Nixon and Ford administrations.
A conservative, Scalia first made originalism vogue on the modern court, arguing that justices ought to interpret the U.S. Constitution according to its original meaning. And before coming to the court he served as one of the original faculty advisors to the prominent conservative judicial group, the Federalist Society.
A celebrated justice among conservatives, Scalia was an open opponent of any encroachment on the separation of powers, federalism, and the right to life. His written majority and dissenting opinions were often equally colorful and biting.
Scalia described the jurisprudence of the King v. Burwell decision that upheld the Affordable Care Act as “pure applesauce” and quipped that the law should be renamed “SCOTUScare.”