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'Towering legal figure' - Supreme Court's Scalia found dead in Texas
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'Towering legal figure' - Supreme Court's Scalia found dead in Texas

  • Antonin Scalia, March 11, 1936 - Feb. 13, 2016
    U.S. Supreme CourtAntonin Scalia, March 11, 1936 - Feb. 13, 2016
  • U.S. Supreme Court

Antonin Scalia, an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, was found dead of "apparent natural causes" at a resort in West Texas on Saturday.

President Barack Obama, who said he'll nominate a successor, said Scalia was "one of the most towering legal figures of our time" and among the "most consequential judges and thinkers to serve" on the court.

Scalia, 79 and a member of the nation's highest court since 1986, was a guest at a resort in the Big Bend area south of Marfa. He was found dead is his room after he did not appear for breakfast.

Scalia had a "larger-than-life presence on the bench" and was a "a brilliant legal mind with a pugnacious style, incisive wit, and colorful opinions (who) profoundly shaped the legal landscape," Obama said.

The late justice "was an extraordinary individual and jurist, admired and treasured by his colleagues," Chief Justice John Roberts said in a news release. "His passing is a great loss to the court and the country he so loyally served."

Speaking Saturday night, Obama rejected suggestions by many Republicans that he not nominate a new justice, leaving that task to the next president.

"I plan to fulfill my constitutional responsibility to nominate a successor in due time," Obama said. "There’s plenty of time... for the Senate to fulfill its responsibility to give that person a fair hearing and a timely vote."

"These are responsibilities I take seriously, as should everyone," the president said. "They’re bigger than any one party. They’re about our democracy."

MySanAntonio.com broke the news of Scalia's death, which was later confirmed by federal officials.

According to a report, Scalia arrived at the ranch on Friday and attended a private party with about 40 people. When he did not appear for breakfast, a person associated with the ranch went to his room and found a body. ...

A federal official who asked not to be named said there was no evidence of foul play and it appeared that Scalia died of natural causes.

A conservative known as the leading proponent of an "originalist" interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, Scalia was named to the Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan, filling an associate justice's chair left vacant when William Rehnquist was elevated to become chief justice.

Scalia often found himself voting against the majority, responding with scathing dissents. While his less-than-diplomatic legal manner meant he did not author many majority opinions — those that carry the force of law — in close decisions, his vigorous expression of his legal philosophy had a deep impact with other members of the federal bench.

Speaking Saturday night, Obama mentioned Scalia's love of opera, noting that he shared it with fellow Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Despite their differences in approaches to the law, the two judges were fast friends. They and their spouses spent each New Year's Eve together for decades. In a statement released Saturday, Ginsburg noted that their relationship was itself the subject of an opera:

Toward the end of the opera Scalia/Ginsburg, tenor Scalia and soprano Ginsburg sing a duet: "We are different, we are one," different in our interpretation of written texts, one in our reverence for the Constitution and the institution we serve. From our years together at the D.C. Circuit, we were best buddies. We disagreed now and then, but when I wrote for the Court and received a Scalia dissent, the opinion ultimately released was notably better than my initial circulation. Justice Scalia nailed all the weak spots— the "applesauce" and "argle bargle"— and gave me just what I needed to strengthen the majority opinion. He was a jurist of captivating brilliance and wit, with a rare talent to make even the most sober judge laugh. The press referred to his "energetic fervor," "astringent intellect," "peppery prose," "acumen," and "affability," all apt descriptions. He was eminently quotable, his pungent opinions so clearly stated that his words never slipped from the reader's grasp.

While not the longest-serving justice in the history of the court — 14 members had longer terms — Scalia had the longest tenure on the high court of any current justice, at nearly 30 years. Justice Anthony Kennedy has been on the court since 1988, while Justice Clarence Thomas was confirmed in 1991. Those appointed to the court serve lifetime terms.

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