Antonin Scalia, Trenton-born Supreme Court Justice, Dead at 79
Antonin Scalia, the Trenton-born member of the Supreme Court, was found dead Saturday morning at a private residence in the Big Bend area of South Texas. He was 79.
The U.S. Marshal's Service in Washington confirmed Scalia's death late Saturday.
Service spokeswoman Donna Sellers said Scalia had retired for the evening and was found dead Saturday morning when he did not appear for breakfast.
Scalia, known for his "originalist" view of judging, as appointed in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan. He'd been a strong advocate for privacy rights, voted to let states allow abortion, voted to permit executions, sought to limit lawsuits and consistently voted to let states limit abortions.
Gov. Chris Christie, in a statement Saturday night, called Scalia's death "an enormous loss to our entire country."
"Justice Scalia was the bedrock of the court who, with unmistakable wit and good humor, was unwavering in his fidelity to the Constitution and a fierce advocate and protector of the liberties and freedoms it grants to us all as Americans," Christie wrote.
He continued: "Justice Scalia was a Trenton-born New Jerseyan and the first Italian American to serve on the Supreme Court. He was an example and inspiration, and a leader we are proud to call a native son of New Jersey. Mary Pat and I send our thoughts and prayers to his family and loved ones, and the countless friends who mourn him tonight."
Chief Justice John Roberts said Scalia was "an extraordinary individual and jurist, admired and treasured by his colleagues. His passing is a great loss to the Court and the country he so loyally served. We extend our deepest condolences to his wife Maureen and his family."
Texas Governor Abbott released the following statement about Scalia's death:
"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."
Scalia's death immediately set off a debate over whether president Barack Obama should nominate a replacement. Any Obama nominee is unlikely to be confirmed by the Republican-led Senate in the final year of Obama's term.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, as well as Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, said the nomination should fall to the next president.
Sen. Harry Reid, the chamber's top Democrat, said it would be "unprecedented in recent history" for the court to have a vacancy for a year.
Scalia used his keen intellect and missionary zeal in an unyielding attempt to move the court farther to the right after his 1986 selection by President Ronald Reagan. He also advocated tirelessly in favor of originalism, the method of constitutional interpretation that looks to the meaning of words and concepts as they were understood by the Founding Fathers.
Scalia's impact on the court was muted by his seeming disregard for moderating his views to help build consensus, although he was held in deep affection by his ideological opposites Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan. Scaliaand Ginsburg shared a love of opera. He persuaded Kagan to join him on hunting trips.
His 2008 opinion for the court in favor of gun rights drew heavily on the history of the Second Amendment and was his crowning moment on the bench.
He could be a strong supporter of privacy in cases involving police searches and defendants' rights. Indeed, Scaliaoften said he should be the "poster child" for the criminal defense bar.
But he also voted consistently to let states outlaw abortions, to allow a closer relationship between government and religion, to permit executions and to limit lawsuits.
He was in the court's majority in the 2000 Bush v. Gore decision, which effectively decided the presidential election for Republican George W. Bush. "Get over it," Scalia would famously say at speaking engagements in the ensuing years whenever the topic arose.
Bush later named one of Scalia's sons, Eugene, to an administration job, but the Senate refused to confirm him. Eugene Scalia served as the Labor Department solicitor temporarily in a recess appointment.
— Reporting by Louis C. Hochman and by the Associated Press was used in this report