How Antonin Scalia's Death Will Affect the Supreme Court

ABC News' Kate Shaw explains what's next for the court after Scalia.

ByABC News
February 15, 2016, 11:20 AM

— -- The unexpected death of conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia this weekend has wide-ranging implications and raises numerous complicated questions. So what happens now?

We've asked Kate Shaw, an ABC News contributor and an assistant professor of law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, to provide some clarity.

Q: Describe Scalia's role on the court. Who appointed him? What was his reputation?

Justice Scalia was appointed by President Reagan in 1986, and confirmed by the Senate unanimously.

He was a towering intellect, especially well known for his advocacy of a method of constitutional interpretation known as originalism, which holds that interpreting the Constitution requires close examination of the original meaning of the Constitution; that is, its meaning at the time it was drafted and ratified. This led him, for example, to dissent strongly in cases protecting the right to an abortion under the Constitution.

He was also the court’s unrivaled prose stylist; he took the craft of writing incredibly seriously, and it showed.

After the retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens in 2010, he became the most senior member of the court after the chief justice.

Q: With which court ruling is he most associated?

There’s a pretty broad consensus that his most important majority opinion was D.C. v. Heller, the 2008 case in which the court for the first time held that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to gun ownership. Justice Scalia wrote for a five-Justice majority striking down D.C.’s handgun ban and holding that the Second Amendment protects the right of the individual to own a gun (though it left unanswered a number of questions about how heavily that right could be regulated).

Heller is significant not just because of the outcome, but also because it was a triumph of Justice Scalia’s originalist methodology: Not only the majority opinion he authored but the two dissents in the case grappled at length with documents from the founding era (and even much earlier).

Q: Ok, so where do things do from here? Is the court in session? Does the court continue to hear arguments? Will they still issue rulings? How does the court function with only eight justices now? How do they issue rulings if there's a tie, 4 to 4 justices?