Sunday, February 14, 2016

Death of a Justice

Yesterday, the world learned of the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who had been the longest-serving member of the current Court since the 2010 retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens. Excellent obituaries summarizing Scalia's life and legal philosophy are available at the New York Times (free) and in United States Law Week (NetID required).

Justice Antonin Scalia (1936-2016)
Photo from
  In a televised address to the nation last night, President Barack Obama noted that "today is a time to remember Justice Scalia's legacy" rather than speculate about future appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court. However, Justice Scalia's death – in the middle of the Court's current term, with a number of cases left to be argued and/or decided – has naturally sparked questions from the public about the continued operations of the Court. (The last time a sitting Justice passed away was former Chief Justice William Rehnquist in 2005.) As noted in Slate and other news outlets, a 4-4 tie on the Supreme Court results in a per curiam opinion which upholds the lower court's ruling "by an equally divided Court." (For more on the subject, see a 2002 article from the William & Mary Law Review, "Ties in the Supreme Court of the United States.") Sources like Slate, SCOTUSblog, and others have already begun analyzing the likely outcomes of this term's highest-profile cases.

It's unknown at this point when a successor to Justice Scalia will be nominated, or if a new justice would be confirmed by the U.S. Senate before the next President takes office in January 2017. Article II, section 2 of the U.S. Constitution states that the President "shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint….Judges of the supreme Court." In his address to the nation, President Obama expressed intent to nominate the next U.S. Supreme Court justice "in due time," and called upon the Senate to act swiftly on a nomination in order to ensure the continued operations of the Court. The Senate Judiciary Committee provides an overview of the process as well as recent nomination hearing transcripts; nomination hearing transcripts back to 1971 are available at the Government Publishing Office's FDsys site.

For more information about any aspect of the U.S. Supreme Court, check out the resources listed in our research guide. To locate Justice Scalia's many writings in the Goodson Law Library collection, try an author search of the Duke Libraries Catalog. To find works about this influential – and sometimes controversial – justice, switch your search from author to Subject Heading. For help with questions about the U.S. Supreme Court, be sure to Ask a Librarian.