Justice Scalia’s death may change outcome of pending Supreme Court cases; looming political battle to fill vacancy

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WASHINGTON — Justice Antonin Scalia’s death deprives conservatives of a key vote that could change the outcome in some major Supreme Court cases.

That includes one in which labor unions appeared headed for a big defeat.

Next month’s Supreme Court arguments in a clash over contraceptives, religious liberty and President Barack Obama’s health care law also now seem more likely to favor the administration.

Those are the most immediate effects on the court of the loss of its conservative icon and longest-serving justice.

It’s a firm Supreme Court rule that decisions aren’t final until they’re handed down. So nothing Scalia did or said in pending cases matters to the outcome.

REACTION

Condolences quickly poured in from politicians and presidential hopefuls. President George H.W. Bush, who was vice president when Scalia was appointed to the court, called him one of Reagan’s “many enduring legacies to the United States.”

“Both his admirers and his detractors agreed that Justice Scalia was one of the sharpest constitutional intellects to ever serve on the bench,” Bush said in a statement. “I considered him a personal hero, and Barbara and I were honored to call him a friend. Our heart breaks today for our country, but especially for his wife Maureen and his nine children and extended family. His death is a great loss for us all.”

GOP 2016 front-runner Donald Trump issued his condolences to Scalia’s family in a statement but tweeted that his death was a “massive setback” for conservatives.

“The totally unexpected loss of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is a massive setback for the Conservative movement and our COUNTRY!” Trump tweeted.

Vermont senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders also tweeted his condolences to Scalia’s family.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who is a member of the Judiciary Committee, echoed McConnell’s call for Obama to hold off on selecting a replacement.

“Justice Scalia was an American hero. We owe it to him, & the Nation, for the Senate to ensure that the next President names his replacement,” Cruz tweeted.

Hillary Clinton said in a statement that she “did not hold Justice Scalia’s views, but he was a dedicated public servant who brought energy and passion to the bench.”

But, she added, “The Republicans in the Senate and on the campaign trail who are calling for Justice Scalia’s seat to remain vacant dishonor our Constitution. The Senate has a constitutional responsibility here that it cannot abdicate for partisan political reasons.”

FLAGS AT HALF STAFF

A proclamation from President Barack Obama orders flags to be flown at half-staff “as a mark of respect” for the late justice.

The order applies to the White House, Supreme Court and other public buildings and grounds in the nation’s capital and elsewhere in the country.

The order is in effect until sunset on the day of Scalia’s interment.

CAUSE OF DEATH?

Scalia’s body has been taken to a funeral home in El Paso, Texas, where officials are waiting to hear whether an autopsy will be performed.

Chris Lujan — a manager for Sunset Funeral Homes — says a procession that included about 20 law enforcement officers arrived early Sunday at the funeral home.

The procession traveled more than three hours from the West Texas resort ranch where Scalia was found dead in his room on Saturday morning.

Lujan says if an autopsy is ordered by Scalia’s family or a justice of the peace, then it likely will be performed at the funeral home by an El Paso County medical examiner.

Lujan says tentative plans call for Scalia’s body to be flown back home Tuesday to his family in Virginia.

CNN’s Steve Almasy, Mary Kay Mallonee Stephen Collinson, Jake Tapper and Manu Raju contributed to this report.

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