Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the longest-serving justice on the Court and a firebrand conservative, has died, according to multiple reports.
Scalia, 79, was found dead of apparent natural causes Saturday on a luxury resort in West Texas, according to the San Antonio Express.
“He was an extraordinary individual and jurist, admired and treasured by his colleagues,” Chief Justice John Roberts said. “His passing is a great loss to the Court and the country he so loyally served.”
Scalia, who grew up in Elmhurst, Queens, was nominated to the court by President Ronald Reagan. Unlike some other justices nominated by Republican presidents, Scalia never drifted to the center or left, adhering to a strict interpretation of the Constitution. He was a caustic, colorful figure on the Court, a leader of a “conservative renaissance,” in the words of the New York Times.
A hero to the right and something of an archvillain to liberals, Scalia was deeply religious, once declaring in an interview he believed in the devil. In an often divided Court, Scalia could always be relied upon as an unapologetic conservative vote.
President Barack Obama, a Democrat, will be tasked with nominating a replacement justice. The Republican-controlled Senate must confirm anyone Mr. Obama selects and it’s highly unlikely the GOP will allow the president to get his way without a bitter fight. With the possibility of a Republican replacing Mr. Obama, who is in his final year as president, Senate Republicans will have an additional incentive to stonewall the White House.
With the battle to replace Scalia as a backdrop, the presidential race, already tumultuous, will take on another layer of gravity and uncertainty. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a front-runner for the Republican nomination and a former Supreme Court clerk, called Scalia one of the “greatest justices in history.”
“A champion of our liberties and a stalwart defender of the Constitution, he will go down as one of the few Justices who single-handedly changed the course of legal history,” Mr. Cruz said.
His colleague and rival for the nomination, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, said Scalia was “one of the most consequential Americans in our history and a brilliant legal mind who served with only one objective: to interpret and defend the Constitution as written.”
Donald Trump, another Republican front-runner, simply said Scalia was “one of the best of all-time.”
“His career was defined by his reverence for the Constitution and his legacy of protecting Americans’ most cherished freedoms,” Mr. Trump said. “He was a Justice who did not believe in legislating from the bench and he is a person whom I held in the highest regard and will always greatly respect his intelligence and conviction to uphold the Constitution of our country.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont maintained that he “differed” with Scalia’s views, but said the justice was a “brilliant, colorful and outspoken member of the Supreme Court.” Hillary Clinton, his rival and the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, chastised Republicans who vowed to block anyone nominated by Mr. Obama.
“The Republicans in the Senate and on the campaign trail who are calling for Justice Scalia’s seat to remain vacant dishonor our Constitution,” Ms. Clinton said. “The Senate has a constitutional responsibility here that it cannot abdicate for partisan political reasons.”
Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, the publisher of Observer Media.