Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, an icon of conservative law who had served on the court since 1986, has died suddenly at the age of 79.
The San Antonio Express-News was the first to report the news. The paper wrote that Scalia was staying at a ranch in West Texas on a hunting trip, where he died of natural causes. That report was followed by similar reports from other local news stations in Texas. Texas governor Greg Abbott then issued a statement confirming the news and mourning Scalia's passing.
Eventually, Chief Justice John Roberts issued his own statement:
On behalf of the Court and retired Justices, I am saddened to report that our colleague Justice Antonin Scalia has passed away. 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 was known for his witty, scorched-earth opinions, especially his dissents, which became legendary enough to warrant an entire book. He was the leading advocate of the theory of originalism, which rejects the notion of a so-called "living Constitution" whose interpretation changes to fit the world around it in favor of a rigid adherence to the presumed thoughts of the document's original authors. He became notorious in liberal circles for his vehement opposition to affirmative action, abortion and same-sex marriage.
Legal writer Jeffrey Rosen summed Scalia's legacy up in a 2010 New York Times article:
Love him or hate him, Antonin Scalia has had a greater influence on the way Americans debate the law today than any other modern Supreme Court justice. Conservatives hail Scalia as the founding prophet of their true faith — the Jurisprudence of Original Understanding — and the leader of the opposition to moral relativism and judicial imperialism in the age of Obama. Liberals scorn Scalia as a show-off and intellectual bully who is quick to betray his constitutional principles when they clash with his fervent beliefs as a crusader in the culture wars.
Scalia's death has huge ramifications. The court was split 5-4 on ideological lines, with Scalia's conservatives in the majority. President Obama now has a chance to flip that majority to the court's liberal wing, potentially changing the direction of the court for decades.
Coming in an election year, with Republicans controlling the Senate, Scalia's death sets up what is sure to be a monster confirmation battle. Speaking on Saturday night, President Obama said that he would nominate someone to replace Scalia. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that the next president, not Obama, should be the one to nominate a successor:
So did Charles Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee:
Conn Carroll, a spokesman for Republican senator Mike Lee, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, tweeted that there was virtually no chance of Obama successfully getting anybody through.