The Corner

Law & the Courts

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, RIP.

Awful news out of Texas this afternoon: Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away at the age of 79.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott confirmed the death, and issued the following statement: “Justice Antonin Scalia was a man of God, a patriot, and an unwavering defender of the written Constitution and the Rule of Law. He was the solid rock who turned away so many attempts to depart from and distort the Constitution. His fierce loyalty to the Constitution set an unmatched example, not just for judges and lawyers, but for all Americans. We mourn his passing, and we pray that his successor on the Supreme Court will take his place as a champion for the written Constitution and the Rule of Law. Cecilia and I extend our deepest condolences to his family, and we will keep them in our thoughts and prayers.”

The El Paso ABC News affiliate reports, “Catholic Priest Mike Alcuino out of Presidio was called to the ranch and administered Justice Scalia’s last rites just moments ago.”

The 79-year-old died in his sleep last night after a day of quail hunting at Cibolo Creek Ranch outside of Marfa, Texas. The Justice did not report feeling ill and retired to his room after dinner. The source, who was traveling with Scalia, told ABC-7 an El Paso priest has been called to Marfa. Scalia was the longest-serving current Justice on the Supreme Court. He was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986.

Scalia’s death leaves a vacancy on the court. The court can operate with eight justices, but any decisions that result in a 4-4 split among the justices leave the lower court decision unchanged:

Although rare, 4-4 ties are hardly unheard-of—justices do recuse themselves from time to time. A split decision effectively upholds the ruling of the lower court (presumably a state supreme court). In the event of such a tie, the court typically issues what’s known as a per curiam decision. The opinion in such a decision is issued under the court’s name, as opposed to consisting of a majority and a minority opinion. Justices, however, may attach dissenting opinions to the per curiam decision if they like—as happened in Bush v. Gore. When a 4-4 deadlock does occur, the case is not deemed to have set any sort of precedent. Tradition holds that the court’s per curiam opinion in such ties is usually very, very terse, often consisting of no more than a single sentence: “The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided court.”

Ed Whelan, among others, argues that the Republican Senate should not confirm an Obama nominee.

 

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