Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away yesterday while vacationing in Texas during hunting trip. Justice Scalia arrived to the Cibolo Creek Ranch the past Friday for a private party event. Attendees at the event stated that the Justice retired from the party rather early, and returned to his private room. The following day, when he wasn’t present for breakfast service, another guest went to his room to check up on the situation. It was then that the Justice was found deceased, apparently from natural causes. Early speculations believe the death was caused by a heart attack.
Scalia’s body is scheduled to return back to Washington D.C. He will be escorted by Supreme Court Police and Federal Marshalls. As of the last report, his body remained in a funeral home in Texas until the proper arrangements could be made for transportation, and until it was determined whether the autopsy would be performed in the state of Texas. Either Scalia’s family or a local court official will decide whether the autopsy will go forward pursuant to local procedure.
How the Unfortunate Death Affects an Election Year
Saturday’s Republican debate did not shy away from the theme of Scalia’s death. All candidates, exccept for Bush, urged the Republican led Senate to refrain from approving a presidential appointment to the bench until the next president takes office. However, Democrat Patrick Leahy of the Senate Judiciary Committee recently remarked that it would be a dereliction of duty for the Senate to not consider an appointment in a reasonable amount of time. Even Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders supports finding a replacement as soon as possible. It looks like the situation will end in a heated debate among party lines in the near future.
A Look at Scalia’s Legacy
Scalia was known for being the hardline conservative on the bench. He was responsible for keeping the balance on the Court, and is known for many controversial remarks. Fairly recently, his opinion in the gay marriage case went as follows:
“The Supreme Court of the United States has descended from the disciplined legal reasoning of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie.”
Scalia was also a main force behind many of the landmark criminal law cases. In 2006, the High Court reviewed the constitutionality of Kansas’ death penalty. As part of the majority opinion holding that the state’s form of capital punishment was lawful, Scalia expressed doubt that any prisoner who had undergone execution was truly innocent of the capital offense. He noted that the “dissent does not discuss a single case — not one — in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit.” Indigent defense counsel like one criminal lawyer in Sacramento points out that this rhetoric is coming into question now as DNA evidence is more frequently used to exonerate inmates unjustly charged with crimes. Many prisoner rights groups feel that some inmates very well may have been excecuted unjustly and that the absence of specific cases to prove the point was merely due to the lack of available scientific methods at the time.
Where the Court is Headed
Many analysts express doubt that the President will be able to appoint a justice during his lame duck tenure. However, one only has to remember that Justice Kennedy was appointed under a similar scenario. Kennedy was appointed in 1987, and confirmed by Reagan in February of 1988, an election year. This situation provides a sharp contrast to Sen. Ted Cruz’s assertion at Saturday’s debate that there is a long precedence of exiting Presidents leaving SCOTUS appointments to the newly elected president. It seems that Obama is intent on getting the job done, and his decision may have the Court leaning to the left for years to come.
Things to Come
The death of Justice Scalia is sad, but it is also allows for a significant change to occur in the Court. We are sure to see a highly debated process as Obama attempts to pass through an appointment in what is already a highly charged election year. It’s possible that the end of the year will not only bring a new President to the White House, but also a new Justice to the Supreme Court.