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American Lord Denning found dead at luxury resort in Texas

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Law students mourn loss of eccentric Supreme Court judge

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Justice Antonin Scalia — US Supreme Court judge and law student favourite — has died at the age of 79 years.

The Harvard educated judge will be remembered for stirring up controversy in his 30 years on the Supreme Court bench. An opinion from the conservative judge was, in the words of writer Margaret Talbot, “the jurisprudential equivalent of smashing a guitar on stage.”

He was a strong proponent of originalism, the belief that the constitution has a fixed meaning and that this meaning does not change over time, hence his strong anti-abortion and anti-gay rights views. In a growingly liberal country, Scalia was often famed for his dissents.

His colourful language made him a big name amongst law students. He once called President Obama’s healthcare reform law “jiggery-pokery” and “pure applesauce”, and even came up with this classic:

In a big family the first child is kind of like the first pancake. If it’s not perfect, that’s okay, there are a lot more coming along.

The off-the-wall American Supreme Court justice has been likened to law student favourite Lord Denning, who is also notorious for his eccentric opinions and epic dissents.

And while the country will no doubt be mourning the loss of one of the US’s most prominent senior judicial figures, in media circles speculation is beginning to bubble about who is going to replace the outlandish judge.

Unlike in the UK, judicial appointments to the Supreme Court are made by the President, and therefore have a strong political undertone. Before this weekend, the court had a conservative majority of 5-4, but now democrat Barack Obama has vowed to nominate a replacement, meaning that the balance of power could shift towards the liberals.

It’s a highly politicised issue, which has prompted comment from UK lawyers about the ensuing power struggle.

The importance of this shouldn’t be understated: by contrast with the UK, the US Supreme Court is able to strike down legislation if it thinks it’s unconstitutional.