US Supreme Court [official website] Justice Antonin Scalia [official profile] died Saturday at the age 79. Friends reported that he died in his sleep [CNN report] during a trip to Texas. Chief Justice John Roberts issued the following statement:
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.
The court is currently in recess and will reconvene for a conference on February 19. As a replacement is unlikely to be appointed before the end of the current term, all pending cases will now be decided by an eight-member court. A four-four split would allow the lower court decision to stand [SCOTUSblog report].
Scalia was the longest serving member the court, having been appointed by Ronald Reagan and confirmed in 1986. He was one of the more conservative justices and authored many noteworthy decisions, including District of Columbia v. Heller [JURIST report], in which the court ruled that the Second Amendment to the US Constitution prohibits the District of Columbia from banning private handgun ownership. Scalia was born in Trenton, New Jersey, on March 11, 1936. Before being appointed to the Supreme Court he served on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.