Seventeen of the first 25 people to sit on the Supreme Court died as acting justices. Of the first 57 -- the first half of all of those to have been on the Supreme Court -- 38 died while on the bench. Of the second 57, only 12 died while on the bench.
The last, prior to Antonin Scalia, who died at some point Friday night or Saturday morning, was Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who died in 2005. Prior to that, the last justice to die while on the bench was Fred Vinson, who died in 1953 -- also while chief justice.
The shift in the last half century toward justices retiring before death is obvious when you look at the life spans and tenures of all of the Court's members.
Which is another reason that the death of Scalia has disrupted business-as-usual in Washington. Usually, Capitol Hill can see a Supreme Court vacancy coming. Sometimes -- on more and more rare occasions -- it's out of everyone's control.