WASHINGTON (AP) — The Texas county judge who decided no autopsy was needed following the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has disclosed new details about Scalia’s health in the days before he died.
Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara told The Associated Press on Monday she spoke with Scalia’s doctor on the day he was found dead in his room at a remote Texas ranch. She said the doctor told her that Scalia had a history of heart trouble, high blood pressure and was considered too weak to undergo surgery for a recent shoulder injury.
Those details are seemingly at odds with recollections of friends who described Scalia as his usual, happy self during the days leading up to his death. News that the 79-year-old justice was in declining health may come as a surprise to the public, but unlike presidents, the high court’s members don’t provide regular health disclosures.
Guevara told the AP that she consulted with Scalia’s personal physician and local and federal investigators, who said there were no signs of foul play, before concluding that he had died of natural causes. She said she spoke with a “Dr. Monahan” at some point after 8 p.m. on Saturday to discuss Scalia’s health history.
Rear Adm. Brian P. Monahan is the attending physician for members of Congress and the Supreme Court. A Supreme Court spokeswoman could not immediately confirm that Monahan had examined Scalia, and Monahan did not return a phone message left for him at his Capitol office Monday.
Scalia’s death was a shock to those at the Cibolo Creek Ranch where he died, as well as to the rest of the nation. The owner of the ranch near Marfa, about 190 miles southeast of El Paso, said Scalia seemed normal at dinner the night before he was found “in complete repose” in his room.
John Poindexter told reporters Scalia had arrived Friday and was part of a group of about 35 weekend guests. Scalia retired around 9 p.m., saying he wanted a long night’s sleep, according to Poindexter.
Chris Lujan, a manager for Sunset Funeral Homes in El Paso, Texas, said Scalia’s body was taken from the facility late Sunday afternoon and was to be flown to Virginia
An El Paso International Airport official, Terry Sharpe, the airport’s assistant director for operations, said a private plane carrying Scalia’s body left the West Texas airport about 8 p.m. Eastern time Sunday.
Guevara said Monahan told her Scalia had gone to the doctor’s office on both Wednesday and Thursday before traveling to Texas, and had an MRI on his shoulder. She said Monahan told her surgery was needed, but that Scalia wasn’t strong enough to endure surgery so rehabilitation was recommended instead.
Scalia apparently had mentioned to some people at the ranch he was not feeling well, according to Guevara. She said that information came from her conversations with Presidio County Sheriff Danny Dominguez and a U.S. marshal she identified as Ken Roberts, both of whom had seen Scalia’s body and determined there was no foul play.
State law allows an inquest to be performed by phone. Guevara said she followed the procedure because both justices of the peace serving the region were out of town and she was also about 65 miles away from the resort.
Guevara certified Scalia’s death by telephone about 1:52 p.m. Saturday. She had previously conducted two other death inquests by phone.
Bryan Garner, one of Scalia’s close friends and the co-author of two books with the justice, said in an interview that Scalia seemed happy and jovial during recent trips to Hong Kong and Singapore in late January and early February. Garner said Scalia never mentioned anything about heart problems or other ailments during the trip.
“He did seem strong as ever,” Garner said. “He was a very strong man physically.”
During the trip, Scalia and Garner spent long days traveling, speaking to university audiences about their most recent book on interpreting the law, and meeting with public officials.
Garner said his most recent conversation with Scalia was on Wednesday morning, when the justice told him, “‘The world of tennis has lost a great competitor.’” Scalia, long an avid tennis player, said he had torn his rotator cuff for a second time and that his playing days likely were over, Garner said.
But Garner said Scalia never mentioned any other ailments other than that he was dealing with a “head cold.”
In the nation’s capital, where flags flew at half-staff at the White House and Supreme Court, the political sniping soared over replacing Scalia on the bench, raising the prospect of a court short-handed for some time.
President Barack Obama has pledged a nomination “in due time.” But the Senate’s top Republican, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, thinks it should wait for the next president. McConnell and other Republicans argued that, as a lame duck, Obama should not fill the vacancy created by Scalia’s death during an election year.