Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, a stalwart leader of the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative wing for nearly three decades, has died.
Scalia, 79, was found dead Feb. 13 in his room at a resort ranch in west Texas near Marfa. He had attended a party with about 40 people the night before but did not appear for breakfast, according to the San Antonio Express-News. Scalia’s death appeared to be of natural causes, a federal official told the newspaper.
He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Maureen; nine children; and 28 grandchildren.
Justice Antonin Scalia
Scalia’s death leaves conservatives with a massive vacancy on the high court. He was an outspoken critic of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion and a reliable pro-life vote among the justices. He strongly opposed the court’s 2015 ruling that redefined marriage to include same-sex couples. He typically, though not perfectly, defended the right to free exercise of religion.
Nominated by President Ronald Reagan and confirmed unanimously by the U.S. Senate in 1986, Scalia championed the judicial theory of originalism, which calls for interpretation of the U.S. Constitution based on its original intent. This philosophy usually led to opinions that pleased conservatives, but infrequently it did not.
His death sets up almost a certain clash over the confirmation of his replacement on the court. President Barack Obama is likely to nominate a person with a far different judicial philosophy than Scalia. The Republican majority in the Senate already is being encouraged to refuse to act on replacing Scalia until after the November presidential election.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a written statement the “vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President.” But The New York Times reported that Obama plans to nominate a replacement “in due time.”
“Obviously, today is a time to remember Justice Scalia’s legacy,” Obama said. “I plan to fulfill my constitutional responsibility to nominate a successor in due time. There will be plenty of time for me to do so and for the Senate to fulfill its responsibility to give that person a full hearing and timely vote.”
In announcing Scalia’s death, Chief Justice John Roberts described him as “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.”
Ronnie Floyd, Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) president, and Frank S. Page, SBC Executive Committee president, both said they are praying for Scalia’s family, as well as the United States.
Scalia’s death “is a tragic loss for our nation,” Floyd. “A true leader in the conservative persuasion has now left the court more vulnerable to the liberal persuasion.”
Regarding the election, Floyd said, “The stakes are higher now than ever before. While we pray for his family’s deep loss, we pray for our nation more than ever before.”
Scalia’s death, Page said, “is a stark reminder of the importance of the current presidential campaign. He was a staunch champion for human life from conception to natural death, and sought to interpret constitutional decisions in light of the intent of the framers.”
“More than ever before, we need to pray for our nation’s elected and appointed leaders,” Page said. “We must also commit ourselves to exercise our civic duty by voting our values at the ballot box through this primary season and at the general election later this fall.”
In a blog post, Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said Scalia’s death means the Supreme Court “will be at the epicenter of American culture wars, again, even more than before. The issues at stake are critically important.”
Moore said the church can learn three things from Scalia’s life: Stand by principles; “think with the future in view;” and befriend opponents.
Jason Allen, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, tweeted, “Great concern: Scalia no longer sits on the nation’s highest court. Great consolation: God still sits on the universe’s highest throne.”
Pro-life and other social conservative leaders mourned Scalia’s death.
Alan Sears, president of Alliance Defending Freedom, described Scalia as “the most vocal and passionate voice on the Supreme Court for religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family over the past three decades.”
Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, called him “a man with deep integrity and unparalleled intellectual force, who valued the Constitution over the whims of popular culture. His contribution to our country has been immeasurable.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)