US president Barack Obama has pledged to replace the US Supreme Court’s most conservative judge, Antonin Scalia, who died last weekend aged 79, before his term ends next January
Judge Scalia, a conservative Catholic, was found dead after retiring early from a party during a hunting trip at a ranch in West Texas on Saturday, according to the US Marshals Service.
His death comes at a time many of the US’s biggest cases relating to the US Constitution and federal law relating to abortion and contraception are due to be heard by the Supreme Court.
Because of the way the US Supreme Court works what would generally have been expected to be 5-4 in favour of a Republican view is now expected to be a 4-4 split vote.
For a supreme court judge to be appointed, the president must nominate a candidate and then the US Senate – which has 100 senators – must vote them in by a supermajority, which is 60 out of the 100 votes available.
The Republican party has a majority in the senate with 54 senators, there are 44 Democrats and 2 independents. President Obama would need to find a candidate acceptable to moderate or centrist Republican senators.
The Senate has never taken more than 125 days to vote on a successor from the time of nomination but few presidents have successfully filled vacancies announced in their final year.
Scalia, was considered by some to be the most influential supreme court judge and jurist of the last 25 years and the leader of conservative legal thinking in the US. Born on 11 March, 1936, he was the only child of two devout Roman Catholics.
He attended the Jesuit high school Xavier in New York, and he was top of his class at the Jesuit Georgetown University.
He had a portrait of St. Thomas More, in his Supreme Court office. He once described having nine children with his wife, Maureen as “Vatican roulette”.
He said: “We were both devout Catholics… And being a devout Catholic means you have children when God gives them to you, and you raise them.”
Fellow jurist Chief Justice John Roberts said: “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.”