Antonin Scalia

Antonin Scalia on Fox News/
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West Texas Judge Consulted With
Scalia Physician

| published February 16, 2016 |

By R. Alan Clanton, Thursday Review editor


The county judge in West Texas who declined to press for an autopsy on Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said she based her decision on conversations with Scalia’s physician, who had reported to her that Scalia had been suffering from heart issues, high blood pressure, and a torn rotator cuff.

County judge Cinderela Guevara told the Associated Press that after she spoke to Read Admiral Brian P. Monahan, the Navy doctor assigned as Attending Physician for Supreme Court justices, the two concluded that an autopsy would be unnecessary, since initial medical examinations confirm that Scalia’s death was related directly to his recent health problems.

Scalia, 79, died during the night between Friday evening and Saturday morning at a hunting resort in Texas. Others in his hunting party said Scalia appeared fine during the day on Friday, but complained that he was not feeling well by Friday evening. Scalia reportedly excused himself and told some of the others that he was going to go to bed, or perhaps take a brief nap. The next morning, Scalia did not arrive for breakfast as planned, and the others decided to let him sleep. Only hours later did the hunting ranch’s proprietor decide to check on Scalia, at which time the justice was found dead. He was in his bed, still dressed, with his arms and hands folded across his chest.

According to AP reports, Bryan Garner, the co-author of two of Scalia’s books, said he was not aware of any serious health issues the judge faced other than high blood pressure and the torn rotator cuff, neither of which are necessarily life-threatening. Garner told reporters that Scalia had seemed healthy and robust on a recent trip to Hong Kong and Singapore only weeks ago, and those who spent time with Scalia in West Texas say they saw no sign that the justice was having serious health problems.

Judge Guevara has faced intense criticism in the last 36 hours after news reports revealed that she bypassed an autopsy based on her conversations with the Navy physician. Though Guevara has spoken to reporters, Monahan has not—at least officially.

According to Guevara, Dr. Monahan outlined some of Scalia’s recent medical tests, including x-rays and MRIs to more closely examine the injury to his shoulder, damage which was reportedly inoperable. Scalia was taking medication for his blood pressure.

Cibolo Creek Ranch owner and proprietor John Poindexter discovered Scalia’s body about two hours after the rest of the hunting party had departed into the field on Saturday morning. Poindexter has told some newspapers and websites in Texas that he found Scalia’s body with a pillow over his head, a report so far not confirmed by police or by first responders in Presidio County. In the meantime, other media have reported that the pillow was not found covering Scalia, despite what Poindexter has told certain reporters.

In light of the Presidential election year and the high stakes surrounding a possible replacement by President Obama, conspiracy theories have already taken hold. Numerous conservative and right wing news sites have proposed that Scalia died from foul play, though police and law enforcement in Texas have attempted to dismiss such talk.

Scalia’s death leaves a vacancy on a court which was previously locked in a 5-to-4 tilt toward the conservative side on many issues. Republicans have insisted that President Obama defer nominating a replacement for Scalia, and wait instead for a new President to make that decision after January 2017; a GOP-controlled Senate had already said it will fight any nominee offered by Obama. Democrats in Congress have vowed to support the President if he chooses to pick a replacement, and they have said that Obama has every constitutional right to begin the process of vetting candidates now.

Either way, nominations by the President must meet with Senate approval, so most experts expect a major fight in Washington over who will be chosen to replace the conservative Scalia, and how his replacement will be handled.

Related Thursday Review articles:

The Scalia Replacement: Expect an Epic Fight; Keith H. Roberts; Thursday Review; February 16, 2016.