Statement by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr.
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.
Justice Scalia had gone to Marfa (Texas) to participate in a hunting trip with friends. He went to bed early on Friday night, saying he felt unwell. When he did not get up for breakfast on Saturday morning, he was found to have died in his sleep of natural causes. The Justice was 79 years old, and had served 29 years on the Supreme Court (nominated by President Reagan in 1986).
Scalia was the most rabid right-winger on the Court, and probably is the justice most responsible for the curbing of abortion rights, the expansion of gun rights, and the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, among many other issues. Considered a hero by those on the right and an enemy by those on the left, Scalia's replacement has the potential of radically affecting the conservative/liberal balance on the court.
That makes it very important whether it is a Democratic or Republican president that nominates his replacement. President Obama has the right to nominate a new justice, but it is very unlikely that the Republican-controlled Senate would approve anyone he nominated (and probably would not even allow a vote on an Obama nominee). They think they can win the White House in 2016, and that would let a Republican president choose Scalia's replacement.
There have already been discussions about the next president being able to choose one or more new justices. Now we know that is more than a possibility -- it will happen. This makes the already critical 2016 election much more critical. We need to make sure a Democrat in sworn in on January 2017 to avoid a Scalia-clone being appointed to the Supreme Court.