BY ERIK PILLAR | FEBRUARY 22, 2016
Supreme Justice Antonio Scalia was found dead at the age of 79 of natural causes inside a hotel room at the Cibolo Creek Ranch in Texas.
Cibolo Creek Ranch is owned by billionaire J. B. Poindexter, and Scalia was staying at the ranch for free. A legal case involving one of Poindexter’s companies was brought to the Supreme Court last year and the court declined to hear it. The exact nature of Scalia’s ‘all-expense’ paid trip, and his connection to Poindexter remains unknown.
Scalia’s body was found Saturday after he told friends that he felt ill and had retired for the night. Scalia’s family requested no autopsy be performed. Scalia’s physician told the Post that Scalia was “having health issues,” and that his death “was not a heart attack. He died of natural causes.”
Chief Justice Roberts released the following statement about Justice Scalia. “He was an extraordinary individual and jurist, admired and treasured by his colleagues. 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.”
Scalia held his position on the bench for over 30 years, and was the primary Conservative vote on many issues. He helped decided a range of issues from partial-birth abortion bans and the separation of government powers, to issues of civil rights and death penalties for criminals under the age of 18. Scalia is most known for his strong belief in interpreting the Constitution by its literal text.
Scalia’s open seat on the bench adds tension to an already tense 2016 presidential run. According to the United States Constitution, every President, including President Obama, holds the right to appoint individuals to the position of the Supreme Court with the approval of the Senate. However, a number of Republican leaders – such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – believe the nomination of a new judge should wait for the next President’s appointment.
“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,” McConnell said to reporters.
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid disagreed via press release. “With so many important issues pending before the Supreme Court, the Senate has a responsibility to fill vacancies as soon as possible. It would be unprecedented in recent history for the Supreme Court to go a year with a vacant seat. Failing to fill this vacancy would be a shameful abdication of one of the Senate’s most essential Constitutional Responsibilities.”
Scalia’s absence from the bench ties Republican and Democratic votes four to four on the Supreme Court. Tie rulings defer to the original lower district court ruling, where liberal views hold sway.
“I plan to fulfill my constitutional responsibilities in due time. There will be plenty of time for me to do so, and for the Senate to fulfill its responsibility to give that person a fair hearing and timely vote,” President Obama told the American people in a live televised announcement. “These are the responsibilities that I take seriously as should everyone. They’re bigger than any one party.”
Despite Republican dissent, it is unlikely that a vote or nomination could be outright blocked or denied if President Obama selects a candidate. But, it is possible Republican Senators will attempt to delay proceedings until the 2016 presidential election is concluded.