Update (8:56pm eastern): President Obama said he plans to appoint a successor to Antonin Scalia, despite Republican objections.
Update (6:51pm): Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConell released a statement that the vacancy should not be filled until after the election with a new president. “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President," the Kentucky senator said in a statement.
Associate Justice Antonin Scalia was found dead today of apparent natural causes at a resort in West Texas, according to federal officials. The 79-year-old jurist and distinguished legal scholar had been a guest at the Cibolo Creek Ranch, which is located in the Big Bend region south of Marfa.
Scalia arrived at the ranch on February 12 and had a attended a private party along with 40 other people. When the judge did not appear in the morning for breakfast, a member of the ranch staff went to his room and found him unresponsive.
Chief U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia of the Western Judicial District of Texas was notified of Scalia’s death by the U.S. Marshals Service. Among the others notified of Scalia’s death was U.S. District Judge Fred Biery.
Antonin Gregory Scalia was born in 1936 in New Jersey. He was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan in 1986 and was the longest serving justice on the court. He has long been described as the anchor for the so-called the originalist and textualist position in the Court's conservative wing.
A devout Catholic, Scalia graduated Georgetown University and received his law degree from Harvard Law School. After serving for several years in the Nixon and Ford administration in administrative roles, he went to the University of Chicago where he became a faculty adviser of the Federalist Society. In 1982, he was appointed as a judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit by President Ronald Reagan.
He is survived by his wife Maureen, and nine children, as well as a several grandchildren.
The vacancy allows President Barack Obama the opportunity to leave a lasting legacy by nominating Scalia's replacement on the bench. Hearings in Congress on Obama's nominee to the high court are expected to be tense.
The totally unexpected loss of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is a massive setback for the Conservative movement and our COUNTRY!
Senator Ted Cruz released a statement in tribute to Justice Scalia:
"Today our Nation mourns the loss of one of the greatest Justices in history – Justice Antonin Scalia. 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.
"As liberals and conservatives alike would agree, through his powerful and persuasive opinions, Justice Scalia fundamentally changed how courts interpret the Constitution and statutes, returning the focus to the original meaning of the text after decades of judicial activism. And he authored some of the most important decisions ever, including District of Columbia v. Heller, which recognized our fundamental right under the Second Amendment to keep and bear arms.
"He was an unrelenting defender of religious liberty, free speech, federalism, the constitutional separation of powers, and private property rights. All liberty-loving Americans should be in mourning. "Justice Scalia’s three decades on the Court was one of President Reagan’s most consequential legacies. Our prayers are with his beloved wife Maureen, their nine children, and their precious grandchildren."
"Justice Antonin Scalia was a man of God, a patriot, and an unwavering defender of the written Constitution and the Rule of Law. He was the solid rock who turned away so many attempts to depart from and distort the Constitution. His fierce loyalty to the Constitution set an unmatched example, not just for judges and lawyers, but for all Americans. We mourn his passing, and we pray that his successor on the Supreme Court will take his place as a champion for the written Constitution and the Rule of Law. Cecilia and I extend our deepest condolences to his family, and we will keep them in our thoughts and prayers."
NBC legal analyst Pete Williams said that he would be "very surprised" if the vacancy left by Scalia would be filled before the next Supreme Court term starts in October. "I would be very surprised, frankly, if a vacancy can be filled in time for the next term to start when it starts in October, but it's such an unexpected thing, such a sudden thing, it's such a shock, and that's the way these things tend to go," Williams said.
President Obama must offer his nominee to the U.S. Senate for approval. Legislative and political battles over nominees to the Supreme Court were principal features of several presidencies. The nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court by President Reagan was refused by the Senate, which was controlled by Democrats at the time. It was a signal defeat for the Reagan presidency.