Justice Antonin Scalia has died at the age of 79. The absence of the conservative justice from the Supreme Court bench has set off a political firestorm and could have repercussions for upcoming healthcare cases.
Antonin Scalia, the conservative Supreme Court justice appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986, has died at the age of 79. While no cause of death has been indicated, news outlets have reported that he died of natural causes while in Texas.
Scalia’s death leaves the Supreme Court evenly split between conservative and liberal justices during President Obama’s last year in office.
“For almost 30 years, Justice Antonin “Nino” Scalia was a larger-than-life presence on the bench: brilliant legal mind with an energetic style, incisive wit, and colorful opinions,” Obama said in a statement.
Scalia’s death, coming during a presidential election, has set off a political firestorm. The justice, one of the most conservative members of the court, has frequently voted against the Obama administration in a number of key cases.
In last year’s King v Burwell decision, in which the justices ruled against the plaintiffs to uphold the availability of subsidies for individuals on the federally facilitated marketplace, Scalia wrote the dissent. He called the court’s opinion “interpretive jiggery-pokery” and accused the court of essentially rewriting the law.
Scalia also joined the dissenting justices in the 2012 case against the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In that case, Scalia voted against upholding the individual mandate.
His absence on the bench could make a difference in healthcare cases being heard by the court this year, including an abortion case and one regarding the ACA’s contraception mandate.
Anticipating objections from the GOP, Obama explained that he fully intended to nominate a successor to Scalia before he leaves office.
“I plan to fulfill my Constitutional responsibility to nominate a successor, in due time,” Obama said. “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 a timely vote. These are responsibilities that I take seriously, as should everyone.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has the power to prevent a confirmation of any nominee and he has made it clear that he believes Obama should not make a nomination before leaving office.
“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 wrote in a post on Facebook.
Meanwhile, Harry Reid, the Senate Minority Leader (D-NV), contested that it is one of the Senate’s essential Constitutional responsibilities to fill the vacancy as soon as possible without waiting for a new president to be sworn in.
“The President can and should send the Senate a nominee right away,” he said in a statement. “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.”