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Feb. 13 2016 10:08 PM

How Scalia’s Death Affects This Term’s Biggest Supreme Court Cases

Because of the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court will likely be left with just eight justices for the rest of its term—four reliable liberals, three reliable conservatives, and one Anthony Kennedy, who leans to the right but has traditionally acted as the court's swing vote. Since Senate Republicans have already said they are not in any hurry to confirm a new justice so long as President Obama remains in office, we're probably about to witness a number of deeply important cases end in a 4-to-4 split this year.

And what happens then? When a Supreme Court case winds up in a tie, the justices typically issue a short per curiam opinion upholding the decision of the lower appeals court. That means this term's heavily anticipated rulings on public sector unions and voting representation are likely to end in liberal victories by default. But there’s a catch: Those lower court rulings won’t apply outside of their own jurisdictions, meaning the issues could be litigated all over again in future cases brought elsewhere in the country. Meanwhile, cases on immigration and abortion rights are still sitting in Kennedy's hands and thus could still result in at least temporary conservative victories. Finally, affirmative action as we know it could meet its end with a 4-3 decision.

Here's a brief rundown of how Scalia's passing will (or won't) affect the biggest cases of this term.

CaseFriedrichs v. California Teachers Association
Issue: Public sector union rights
Outcome in a split: The liberals win.  

Not to be too blunt, but presenting this case before a post-Scalia court is an enormous break for American labor unions. In Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, the court is considering whether public servants can be forced under "fair share" laws to pay fees to unions in order to cover the cost of collective bargaining on their behalf, even if they're not members. A ruling against the teachers' unions would effectively extend right-to-work laws to government employees across the nation and significantly cut into public-sector union revenue. And as of oral arguments, it looked as if that was about to happen. But with Scalia no longer on the court, the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which upheld fair share rules, may still stand.

CaseEvenwel v. Abbott
Issue: One-person, one-vote
Outcome in a split: Liberals win.

This case had the potential to drastically change the way that states draw legislative maps. Now, not so much.

Under the principle of one-person, one-vote, states have traditionally tried to create legislative districts that have rougly equal total populations. In Evenwel, the plaintiffs argued that districts should be based on the total number of potential voters. That would exclude minors, unnaturalized immigrants, and felons who had been stripped of their voting rights from the calculation, likely tilting the process in favor of conservatives. The lower court, however, said it was fine for states to continue using total population. In the event of a 4-4 split, that decision will stand.

CaseU.S. v. Texas
Issue: Whether states can challenge federal immigration policy
Outcome in a split: Conservatives win.

In November 2014, President Obama issued a controversial executive action allowing certain undocumented immigrants to apply for temporary legal status if they had children who were citizens or green-card holders. However, 26 states including Texas sued to block the action, and a federal appeals court put the policy on hold while the litigation unfolded. The Supremes have been asked to decide whether states even have the right to sue over the issue, and so a 4-4 nondecision would mean that the lower court decision stands.

CaseWhole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt
Issue: Abortion
Outcome in a split: Conservatives win.

The plaintiffs in this blockbuster reproductive rights case are challenging a Texas law that, as Sarah Kliff of Vox notes, has forced half the state's abortion clinics to close since 2013 by requiring them to get admitting privileges at local hospitals. Were it to stand, additional providers would likely shutter and a legal blueprint would be left in place for more anti-abortion state legistures to limit access. Scalia was a staunch abortion foe. But in the event of a tie, the case would still turn into a conservative win, at least in the states covered by the 5th Circuit, as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit had previously upheld the Texas law. Thus, this case still comes down to Kennedy's vote.

CaseFisher v. Texas
Issue: Affirmative action
Outcome in a split: There won't be a split.  

Abigail Fisher sued University of Texas at Austin over its affirmative action policy after the school rejected her, claiming that the insitution violated the constitution's equal protection clause by considering race in admissions. Again, Scalia was an almost sure vote to end racial preferences, but his passing doesn't matter all that much in this instance, since Justice Elena Kagan has recused herself from the suit. (She was solicitor general when the Obama administration filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case.)

Where does Kennedy stand? He's not known as an affirmative action fan, and two years ago, he wrote the decision sending Fisher back to the lower court for a more stringent review. But during the last oral argument, he largely complained that the most recent version of the case hadn't brought any new facts to light and didn't exactly tip his hand.

Case: Zubik v. Burwell
Issue: Obamacare's contraception mandate
Outcome in a split: The law will be different depending where you live in the country.

If this case ends in a split, things are going to get a bit weird for Obamacare's contraception mandate. You probably remember the Hobby Lobby case from 2014, in which the court ruled that private businesses could exempt themselves from the Affordable Care Act's rules requiring employer-based health plans to cover birth control, so long as their owners had deep religious convictions. After that decision, the Obama administration came up with an “accommodation,” which essentially let those companies off the hook while making sure their workers got their free contraception. However, a number of religiously affiliated nonprofits have sued once again, basically saying the accommodation isn't good enough. Most courts have ruled against them, except for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit. So, if this one ends in a tie, nothing will be settled, and the law will still differ judicial district to judicial district. Just one good reason among many we might want to get a new justice on the Supreme Court soon.

Feb. 13 2016 9:56 PM

Donald Trump Just Proposed Diane Sykes and Bill Pryor for the Supreme Court. Who Are They?

At the Republican debate Saturday night, in response to a question about filling the Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, Donald Trump said, “If I were president now, I would certainly want to try and nominate a justice. And I'm absolutely sure that president Obama will try and do it. I hope that our Senate, Mitch and the entire group, is going to be able to do something about it in terms of delay. We could have a Diane Sykes or a Bill Pryor, we have some fantastic people. But this is a blow to conservatism. It's a tremendous blow, frankly, to our country.” So who are Diane Sykes and Bill Pryor?

They're conservative federal justices. Both were nominated to federal appeals courts by George W. Bush, Sykes to the 7th Circuit and Pryor to the 11th Circuit. Pryor’s appointment was blocked by Senate Democrats, who cited his description of Roe v. Wade as “the worst abomination in the history of constitutional law.” Bush subsequently installed him in a recess appointment, bypassing the confirmation process.

Both frequently appear on conservative Supreme Court shortlists—meaning that Trump’s shoutout was not one of his frequent heresies against right-wing orthodoxy.

Feb. 13 2016 9:39 PM

The Best Lines of the CBS Republican Debate

With actual presidential primary voting finally underway, Saturday night’s Republican debate was bound to be intense. But with the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the stakes have ratcheted up even higher. Whether or not it causes a constitutional crisis, the open Supreme Court seat will surely change the shape of the election. We’re likely to see the first inklings of those changes play out as the six remaining GOP candidates meet in Greenville, South Carolina, tonight. As always, we’ll be tracking their best—and most bonkers—lines as they struggle to to respond.

Rubio, advocating the murder of the Constitution:

Someone on this stage will get to choose the balance of the Supreme Court, and it will begin by filling this vacancy that’s there now, and we need to put people on the bench that understand the constitution is not a living and breathing document. It is to be interpreted as originally meant. 

Bush, explaining what it means to be “an Article 2 guy”:

We want a strong executive for sure. But in return for that, there should be a consensus orientation on that nomination, and there’s no doubt in my mind that Barack Obama will not have a consensus pick when he submits that person to the senate. 

Cruz, apparently forgetting that Justice Kennedy was confirmed in 1988, an election year:

Well, we have 80 years of precedent of not confirming Supreme Court justices in an election year.

Trump, reminding the audience that he used to be, like, a peacenik, man:

I’m the only one on this stage that said, Do not go into Iraq. Do not attack Iraq. Nobody else on this stage said that. I said it loud and strong. 

Kasich just sort of giving up on the debate:

I gotta tell you. This is just crazy, huh? This is just nuts. Okay. Oh, man. 

Rubio, reminding you that he is both religious and a Republican:

I just want to say, at least on behalf of me and my family, I thank god all the time it was George W. Bush in the White House on 9/11 and not Al Gore. 

Trump, incredulous about W.’s record:

The World Trade Center came down during the reign of George Bush. He kept us safe? That is not safe. That is not safe, Marco. That is not safe. 

Cruz, defending his flat tax proposal:

We’ve got to get people moving from part-time work to full-time work. We all agree on that. But it’s not going to be solved with magic pixie dust. It’s not going to be solved by declaring into the air, “Let there be jobs.”

Kasich on true conservative policies:

But here’s what’s interesting about Medicaid. You know who expanded Medicaid five times to try to help the folks and give them opportunities so that they could rise and get a job? President Ronald Reagan. 

Moderator John Dickerson, apologetically explaining the impending commercial break:

The free market wants what it wants.

Rubio, taking a position on Cruz’s prevarications:

Look, this is a disturbing pattern now. For a number of weeks Ted Cruz has just been telling lies. He lied about Ben Carson in Iowa. He lies about Planned Parenthood and marriage. And he makes things up.

Bush on Cruz and Rubio squabbling:

I feel like I have to get into my inner Chris Christie and point out the reason why I should be president is listening to two senators talk about arcane amendments to bills that didn’t pass. 

Bush on being a real tough guy:

But if you want to talk about weakness, you want to talk about weakness, it’s weak to disparaging women. It's weak to disparage Hispanics. It’s weak to denigrate the disabled. And it’s really weak to call John McCain a loser, because he was a P.O.W. 

Kasich, putting on his disapproving-dad hat:

These attacks, some of them are personal. I think we’re fixing to lose the election to Hillary Clinton if we don’t stop this. 

Trump, going hard on Ted Cruz:

You are probably worse than Jeb Bush. You are the single biggest liar … This guy will say anything. Nasty guy. Now I know why he doesn’t have one endorsement from any of his colleagues. 

Dickerson, proving that he’s the only adult in the conversation:

Hold on, gentlemen. I’m going to turn this car around. 

Trump, doubling down on Planned Parenthood:

It does do wonderful things … wonderful things having to do with women’s health. 

Cruz, demonstrating that he doesn’t understand what literally means:

Our country literally hangs in the balance. 

This post will be updated throughout the debate.

Feb. 13 2016 9:15 PM

Obama: I Plan to Fulfill My Constitutional Responsibilities to Nominate Scalia’s Successor

President Obama remembered late Justice Antonin Scalia on Saturday in a brief speech that was both personal and extremely political.

The president began by honoring Scalia himself and his legacy, calling him a “larger-than-life presence on the bench” and a “brilliant legal mind.” Obama said Scalia had “influenced a generation … and profoundly shaped the legal landscape.” He avoided, like other Democrats before him, saying that the two often disagreed, preferring to highlight how Scalia “dedicated his life to the cornerstone of our democracy, the rule of law.”

Obama sprinkled his praise of Scalia with a bit of personal history, noting the special friendship he shared with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and adding that the late justice was both “an avid hunter and an opera lover.”

But then, Obama left no doubt that he has no plans to sit with his arms folded until he steps down and has every intention of trying to nominate someone to take Scalia’s seat. The president spoke after several key Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said it should be up to the next president to fill the empty seat in the highest court of the land.

“I plan to fulfill my constitutional responsibilities to nominate a successor in due time,” Obama said. “There will be plenty of time for me to do so and for the Senate to fulfill its responsibility to give that person a fair hearing and a timely vote. These are responsibilities that I take seriously as should everyone.”

The president seemed to chastise those who suggested he shouldn’t even try to appoint anyone, noting that would not honor Scalia’s legacy. These “responsibilities” are “bigger than any one party—they’re about our democracy; they’re about the institution to which Justice Scalia dedicated his professional life.”

Feb. 13 2016 8:15 PM

Watch Saturday’s CBS Republican Debate Live

Republicans will meet tonight for their first debate since the New Hampshire primary and the final one before voters in South Carolina have their say. Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Jeb Bush, and Ben Carson will step on stage in Greenville, S.C., at around 9 p.m. ET, and you can watch all of the action on the CBS live-stream above.

Feb. 13 2016 7:05 PM

How the San Antonio Express-News Got the Scoop on Antonin Scalia’s Death

The tip came in to Gary Martin, the politics and government editor for the San Antonio Express-News, at around 1 p.m. Central time. About 2½ hours later, the story was online, and the world knew that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was dead.

“We just started working off the tip,” Martin said by phone, not long after the Express-News’ piece went live. “I think we found out about it as it was kind of unfolding. Everywhere we were going, there was no comment. … We were just chasing people we knew in the area and people we knew who had contacts and just kept working those.”

The death of a Supreme Court justice might be the definition of a national news story. The fact that it was first reported by a local newspaper is a dramatic reminder of just how valuable it can be to have seasoned journalists in place when big news happens.

Of course, the definition of “local” is relative when it comes to Texas. If you’re driving, the headquarters of the Express-News—which is owned by the Hearst Corporation and has a circulation of about 130,000—are about seven hours from Cibolo Creek Ranch, where Scalia was staying overnight when he died. As it happened, though, Express-News reporter John MacCormack was out doing a story in nearby Marfa when Martin heard the news.

“I told him what I knew, and he got there,” Martin said. “He went to the sheriff’s office in Marfa first, and they told him they didn’t know anything. Then he went down to the ranch and he was politely asked to step off the property but he stayed across the street. … He was outside the ranch when the hearse pulled up.” 

According to Martin, Scalia was discovered in his room this morning. “I guess he got to the ranch last night,” he said. “He was at a party with about 40 people. He went to bed last night and he didn’t show up to breakfast in the morning and that’s when a person with the ranch went to his room and found him.” 

Confirming the story took a team of seven, Martin said—not a trivial number of people to wrangle on a Saturday, when the paper usually operates with a skeleton crew. Reporters worked their contacts in Texas’ Western judicial district, a massive area that includes Austin, El Paso, and San Antonio. The Express-News’ team called judges, federal marshals, congressmen, and other local sources to shake loose whatever information they could, Martin said. “We knew it was true but we kept getting denials for the first hour—the ranch said nothing happened, the Sheriff’s Department [in Presidio County] said nothing happened.” Slowly but surely, though, they pieced it together.

Martin wouldn’t say exactly how many sources he and his team had when they published their blockbuster around 3:40 p.m. Central time—only that they were local, and that there were several of them. “A story like this—you can’t walk it back if it’s not right.” 

Feb. 13 2016 7:04 PM

Senate Majority Leader: Next President Should Choose Scalia’s Successor

Less than two hours after the confirmation that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had died, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made it clear he has no plans to help President Obama fill the vacancy before he steps down from office. “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President,” McConnell said.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made the following statement Saturday on the passing of...

Posted by Senator Mitch McConnell on Saturday, February 13, 2016

That was the same sentiment expressed by Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. “We owe it to him, & the Nation, for the Senate to ensure that the next President names his replacement,” Cruz wrote on Twitter.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, did not express a view one way or the other, essentially saying it was too soon to tell what would happen. “I wouldn’t make any prognostication on anything about the future because there’s so many balls in the air when those things are considered,” he told the Des Moines Register.

Others, however, were less cautious. Conn Carroll, the communications director for Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, a member of the Senate judiciary committee, took to Twitter quickly after the news broke to express confidence that Republicans wouldn’t allow a vote. “What is less than zero? The chances of Obama successfully appointing a supreme court justice to replace Scalia?”

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermonth, the ranking Democrat of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also quickly spoke up and rejected the very idea that Republicans would be willing to block a nominee for the better part of a year. "I hope that no one will use this sad news to suggest that the President or the Senate should not perform its constitutional duty," Leahy said. "The American people deserve to have a full functioning Supreme Court. The Supreme Court of the United States is too important to our democracy for it to be understaffed for partisan reasons. It is only February. The President and the Senate should get to work without delay to nominate, consider and confirm the next justice to serve on the Supreme Court.”

Senate Minority Leader Harry Redit also called on Obama to send a nominee ASAP. “Would be unprecedented in recent history for SCOTUS to go year with vacancy. And shameful abdication of our constitutional responsibility,” Reid wrote on Twitter.

Feb. 13 2016 6:00 PM

Chief Justice John Roberts, Presidential Candidates Mourn Antonin Scalia

The shocking news that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died of apparent natural causes on Saturday led to an immediate outpouring of grief and remembrance for the justice who had been sitting in the bench since 1986, when he was appointed by President Ronald Reagan. Chief Justice John Roberts quickly reacted to the news:

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.

Considering what a hero Scalia was in conservative circles, it seems hardly surprising Republican presidential candidates were also quick to chime in. Ted Cruz appears to have been the first to throw politics into the mix by saying that President Obama should not name Scalia’s successor.

Earlier, Cruz had issued a less political statement, calling Scalia “a champion of our liberties and a stalwart defender of the Constitution.”

Donald Trump also took to Twitter to express his condolences, characterizing Scalia’s death as “a massive setback for the Conservative movement and our COUNTRY!”

John Kasich described Scalia’s death as “a serious loss to our nation and the Court,” noting that the late justice “was an essential, principled force for conservative”

Marco Rubio got a bit personal in his remembrance saying that “one of the greatest honors in my life was to attend oral arguments during Town of Greece v. Galloway and see Justice Scalia eloquently defend religious freedom.” Rubio also implied Obama shouldn't be the one to nominate the next justice: “The next president must nominate a justice who will continue Justice Scalia’s unwavering belief in the founding principles that we hold dear.”

Jeb Bush says he prayed for Scalia on Saturday afternoon, noting the justice "was devout in faith and has been brought home to God in heaven." The presidential hopeful went on to describe Scalia as his "favorite justice" because "he took the Constitution, and the responsibility of judges to interpret it correctly, with the utmost seriousness."

His brother, former President George W. Bush also praised Scalia. “Laura and I mourn the death of a brilliant jurist and important American. ... He was a towering figure and important judge on our Nation's highest court. He brought intellect, good judgment, and wit to the bench, and he will be missed by his colleagues and our country.”

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders said that while he "differed with Justice Scalia's views and jurisprudence, he was a brilliant colorful, and outspoken member of the Supreme Court."

Hillary Clinton said that while she "did not hold Justice Scalia's views ... he was a dedicated public servant who brought energy and passion to the bench." She also criticized those who are calling for Scalia's seat to remain vacant, saying they "dishonor our Constitution."

This post was updated as more information became available. 

Feb. 13 2016 5:06 PM

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia Dies at a Luxury Resort in West Texas

Justice Antonin Scalia was found dead in a luxury resort in West Texas on Saturday morning, according to multiple reports. The San Antonio Express-News says Scalia was found dead “of apparent natural causes” while at the Cibolo Creek Ranch. Someone apparently went looking for Scalia Saturday morning after the 79-year-old Supreme Court justice failed to show up for breakfast and found him dead in his room. There was no immediate evidence of foul play, according to a federal official cited anonymously by the Express-News.

Local ABC affiliate KVIA is also reporting the news, claiming it received confirmation that Scalia “died in his sleep … after a day of quail hunting.”

Ted Cruz appears to be the first Republican presidential hopeful to come out with a statement mourning Scalia. “A champion of our liberties and a stalwart defender of the Constitution, he will go down as one of the few Justices who single-handedly changed the course of legal history,” Cruz said.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott released a statement shortly after the news broke, calling Scalia “a man of God, a patriot, and an unwavering defender of the written Constitution and the Rule of Law.”

Scalia had been on the Supreme Court since 1986, when he was nominated by President Ronald Reagan.

This post was updated as more information became available.

Feb. 13 2016 1:07 PM

Watch ESPN Cut Off Win Butler’s Political MVP Speech at NBA Celebrity Game

Arcade Fire singer Win Butler was crowned the most valuable player after Friday night’s NBA Celebrity All-Star game. With 15 points and 14 rebounds he was seen as instrumental in helping the Drake-coached Team Canada win the match 74-63. After the game, Butler accepted the MVP award, and things quickly got awkward during the center-court interview as soon as the frontman tried to get political.

“Thank you, I just want to say that as an election year in the U.S. ...” those words appeared to be a cue in the control room because music immediately started playing over Butler’s words as if he had taken too long to get off the stage at the Oscars. Butler kept talking anyway: “The U.S. has a lot they can learn from Canada: healthcare, taking care of people …” That’s when ESPN’s Sage Steele had heard enough: “So we’re talking about celebrity stuff, not politics. Congratulations on your MVP!”

“Thank God,” writes the Guardian’s Dave Schilling. “The last thing I want from my novelty basketball game is anything that actually matters to the fate of the planet. Hopefully Sage gets a raise for her quick thinking.”