Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has died at the age of 79. Appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986, the staunch conservative was the longest-serving of the current justices until he reportedly passed away in his sleep after a day of hunting. Known for his dramatic writing style, vicious dissents, and fierce opposition to abortion rights, affirmative action, and LGBT rights, with his death, the court has lost the heart of its conservative bloc and opened a door for President Barack Obama to dramatically shift the makeup of the country's most senior judicial body.
A conservative in the truest sense, Scalia was a proponent of a strict and literal interpretation of the Constitution, endeavoring at every turn to understand it as would its eighteenth-century framers. That was a bedrock of his opposition to the recent marriage equality ruling, where he railed against the "constitutional revision by an unelected committee of nine," criticizing his fellow justices, whom he saw as usurping the rights of the the people—he seemed to feel that it was up to the popular majority to determine the rights allowed to a minority.
Throughout his career, he has been vocal in his opposition to the rights of members of the LGBT community, in particular. In a 1996 case challenging the constitutionality of a ban on same-sex activities, he compared homosexuality with murder, arguing:
"Of course it is our moral heritage that one should not hate any human being or class of human beings. But I had thought that one could consider certain conduct reprehensible—murder, for example, or polygamy, or cruelty to animals—and could exhibit even 'animus' toward such conduct. Surely that is the only sort of 'animus' at issue here: moral disapproval of homosexual conduct[.]"
At other times, he has likened homosexuality to prostitution, adult incest, adultery, obscenity, and child pornography. He also termed the Voting Rights Act a "racial entitlement."
With his vacancy, President Obama will now have the opportunity to replace him with a justice more in line with his views, as some are currently celebrating:
my timeline is literally the 'can you feel a brand new day' scene from The Wiz right now
— Tracy Clayton (@brokeymcpoverty) February 13, 2016
However, any nominee must be approved by the Senate, and some members of the Republican majority have already promised to fight to keep the position empty until after the next election:
Justice Scalia was an American hero. We owe it to him, & the Nation, for the Senate to ensure that the next President names his replacement.
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) February 13, 2016
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released a statement including the following:
— Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) February 13, 2016
A number of justices have, however, been nominated and approved during election years. While there is certainly a battle on the horizon, President Obama should have more than enough time to get a replacement confirmed.
This is a developing story.