U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia dies, was longest serving justice on the bench (Updated)

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 328 views 

Editor’s note: Story updated with press conference statements from President Barack Obama, and analysis from former Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel.

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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan and was the highest court’s longest serving Justice, has died. He was 79.

Published reports said Scalia died at a private residence at the Cibolo Creek Ranch in west Texas. The U.S. Marshals Service confirmed his death, with natural causes the initial reason given for his passing.

Scalia was appointed by Reagan and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 1986, and served on the court more than 28 years. Originally from New Jersey, Justice Scalia earned his bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University and his law degree from Harvard Law School. He practiced law in Ohio before joining the faculty of the University of Virginia School of Law.

Chief Justice John Roberts said Scalia 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.”

U.S. Sens. John Boozman, R-Ark., and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., praised Scalia’s intelligence and defense of the U.S. Constitution.

“Justice Antonin Scalia was an admired defender of the Constitution. As a jurist he was well-respected for his intellectualism, sharp wit and his commitment to the pursuit of justice. His influence on the high court will be a long lasting legacy. My thoughts and prayers are with the Scalia family during this difficult time,” Boozman said in a statement.

Cotton noted: “The power of Justice Scalia’s intellect, wit, and judicial method have reverberated throughout American law and conservative thought. His name will now join ‎Marshall, Holmes, and Jackson among the greatest Justices in history. He was a scholar, a patriot, a man of principle, and a man of God. His passing is a loss for the Court and a loss for the country. My deepest condolences to Maureen, his nine children, and his grandchildren.”

In a press conference from Rancho Mirage, Calif., President Obama said Scalia dedicated his life to the “cornerstone of democracy; the rule of law.” He also said the Justice was a “remarkable man” and now is the time to remember “Justice Scalia’s legacy.”

However, President Obama did say in “due time” he would nominate someone to fill the open judicial position, and said he would hope the U.S. Senate would provide a “fair hearing” and a “timely vote.”

“But at this moment, we most of all want to think about the (Scalia) family,” Obama noted near the end of his remarks.

ORIGINALIST
Scalia was most known for his “originalist” view of the Constitution. In a February 2015 speech in Fort Smith, he began his address with his fundamental view of the law.

He said many people refer to the Bill of Rights – the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution – when asked about the source of American freedoms. Scalia disagrees with that common reference.

“I would ask you to reconsider that,” he said, noting that every “banana republic” and “dictator-for-life” implement a bill of rights.

He criticized the judicial branch, saying it often attempts to “cram into the Constitution” rules on abortion, homosexual behavior, the death penalty and other issues.

“We take Shakespeare to mean what he meant. Why not with the Constitution?” Scalia said, adding that the Constitution would never have been ratified if it included language saying the meaning of the Constitution could change at any moment based on the interpretation of nine judges.

“Why do you want to give it to nine lawyers to rewrite the thing?” Scalia said to a round of laughter and applause.

ELECTION IMPACT
Scalia’s death is likely to change the debate and strategies in the upcoming presidential primary elections.

Political watchers say his death could result in higher voter turnout, with each party pointing to recent court decisions – won or lost from their political perspective – as a reason to support their candidacy.

Also, there will most likely be much political theater involved as President Obama, who has less than a year in office, works to appoint a successor through a Republican controlled U.S. Senate.

Former Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel (D), a legal analyst for Talk Business & Politics who successfully argued a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, provided the following analysis:

The 24 hour news cycle would have us believe that all kinds of things are earth shattering news. However, the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is truly earth shattering news.

When President Reagan appointed Justice Scalia to the high court in 1986, the conservative movement in America knew that it would have an intellectual giant advocating it’s cause. That proved to be true as he spent decades shaping the nation’s dialogue and ideology.

Religious freedom, free-speech, search and seizure and civil law all found a strong conservative voice in Justice Scalia. His death not only leaves a huge vacancy on the court for this term, but creates an immediate political crisis both on Capitol Hill and in the presidential campaign.

Still to be heard in this session of the court are major cases, including an abortion case from Texas. Justice Scalia’s open desire to overturn Roe v. Wade made him a reliable voice and a powerful ally for conservative policies in abortion cases.

If the court is evenly split, a 4-4 decision does not have the effect of overturning the lower court’s decision. In a court that is famous for 5-4 photo finish opinions, many litigants right now are recalculating their likelihood of success for cases not yet decided this term.

Republican Senators Mike Lee and Ted Cruz immediately tweeted that President Obama would never have the opportunity to fill a seat on the Supreme Court coveted by the right. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is already urging the White House to leave the seat unfilled and let a new president make the appointment.

This would leave the court with a vacancy for a year. This could cause major backlash against the GOP and impact their presidential candidates. At the same time the issue of the Supreme Court will no doubt be a dominant topic on the campaign trail.

Electability comes very much into focus when thinking of the future of the court and who will make nominations. In that way, this vacancy benefits Hillary Clinton. Bernie Sanders excites the far left, but no one realistically thinks he could win a general election. If the next president could make the court a 6-3 or even 7-2 liberal court, Sanders voters might want to fall in love with Hillary, and soon.

Look for GOP primary voters to split on the same question: ideology vs. electability. Ted Cruz, former Texas Solicitor General, is sure to use his legal background and knowledge of the court to energize his base. The establishment candidates will remind voters why they want to nominate a winner. All pundits will scramble to analyze what kind of Supreme Court nominee would come from a President Donald J Trump.

I will never forget my time in front of the Supreme Court as Attorney General. I knew when Antonin Scalia was on my side during questioning, I was going to win. Love him or vilify him, he was an American legal icon and the likes of him we’ll not see again anytime soon.