Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has died of natural causes at a West Texas ranch, as reported by the San Antonio Express. Gov. Greg Abbott released a statement calling Scalia a "man of God, a patriot, and an unwavering defender of the written Constitution and the Rule of Law."
Scalia, who died at age 79, was appointed to the Court by Ronald Reagan in 1986 to fill the seat William Rehnquist gave up to become chief justice. He distinguished himself as one of the most conservative members of the Court.
While on the bench, he repeatedly called for the reversal of Roe v. Wade, the landmark case establishing a right to abortion. He expressed opposition to all affirmative action laws and has dissented from every pivotal gay rights decision the court has made, including Romer v. Evans (striking down an anti-gay amendment to the Colorado Constitution), Lawrence v. Texas (invalidating state sodomy bans), and Obergefell v. Hodges (legalizing same-sex marriage nationally).
His death leaves the Supreme Court with only eight justices for the rest of the term, and invalidates his votes on any decisions made but not yet carried down by the Court. In the event of ties, the decision of the lower court being appealed from is affirmed, but no precedent is set:
In case you were wondering: When the Court divides 4-4 the lower court opinion is affirmed without creating any Supreme Court precedent— Glenn Kessler (@GlennKesslerWP) February 13, 2016
Replacing Scalia with a liberal justice would tilt the balance of power on the Supreme Court in a significant way, giving liberals a majority for the first time in decades.