U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia dead at 79

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FILE – In this Oct. 6, 2011 file photo, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia participates at the third annual Washington Ideas Forum at the Newseum in Washington. Scalia and Attorney General Eric Holder are scheduled to speak at an American Bar Association meeting in New Orleans this weekend. Scalia will be addressing ABA members and […]

WASHINGTON (AP) – Antonin Scalia, the influential conservative and most provocative member of the Supreme Court, has died. He was 79.

The U.S. Marshals Service in Washington confirmed Scalia’s death at a private residence in the Big Bend area of South Texas.

The service’s spokeswoman, Donna Sellers, says Scalia had retired for the evening and was found dead Saturday morning when he did not appear for breakfast.

Scalia used his keen intellect and missionary zeal in an unyielding attempt to move the court farther to the right and to get it to embrace his “originalist” view of judging after his 1986 appointment by President Ronald Reagan.

Chief Justice John Roberts says 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.”

Former President George W. Bush calls Scalia “a towering figure and important judge on our Nation’s highest court.” Bush goes on to say “he brought intellect, good judgment, and wit to the bench, and he will be missed by his colleagues and our country.”

A Catholic priest administered last rites over the body of Justice Antonin Scalia after he died on a West Texas ranch.

Elizabeth O’Hara is a spokeswoman for the El Paso Catholic Diocese. She says Rev. Mike Alcuino was summoned from 30 miles away in Presidio to perform the traditional rites on Saturday afternoon.

Scalia was a staunch Catholic and a defender of religious freedom on the nation’s high court.

The Cibolo Creek Ranch where he died has long been a secluded retreat for celebrities from business leaders to rock stars and famous beauties.

The resort sits in the middle of the Chihuahua Desert, 15 miles from Mexico, at the foot of the jagged Chinati Mountains and 150 miles southeast of El Paso. The nearest town is Shafter, Texas, population 11.

President Barack Obama says he will seek to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, charging into a heated and likely prolonged election-year fight with Republicans in Congress.

On Saturday night, Obama said a nomination was “bigger than any one party.”

With a half-dozen or more major cases before the court, Obama said he pIans to fulfill his constitutional responsibility to nominate a successor in due time.

He said the Senate should have “plenty of time … to give that person a fair hearing and timely vote.”

Obama’s remarks followed those of Republicans who wasted little time Saturday night, as news of Scalia’s unexpected death spread, arguing that Obama should leave the choice to his successor.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice,” adding that “this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”

His position was echoed by a pair of senators seeking the GOP presidential nomination: Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.

Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton said Republicans calling for the seat to remain vacant “dishonor our Constitution.”Reaction to his death follows:

U.S. SENATOR JEFF SESSIONS (R-AL):“The country has suffered a tremendous loss of a true American treasure. Justice Scalia was unquestionably one of the greatest jurists in our nation’s history. His commitment to the Constitution and the rule of law above all else was the very definition of what a judge should be. His approach was to enforce the Constitution and the law as written, not as some might wish it to be. This defends the right of the people to have their will enforced over the personal preferences of judges. His brilliant and incisive writings time and time again exposed the overreach of activist judges. Indeed, it is impossible to overstate the impact his jurisprudence has had in moving the Court towards the classical understanding of law. It is wrong to view the Court’s division as a matter of politics, at least for the orthodox judges. They found their judgment on law not politics. It is our responsibility to the American people and our Constitutional heritage to ensure that Justice Scalia’s legacy on the Court is carried on.”

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SUPREME COURT CHIEF JUSTICE JOHN ROBERTS:

“He 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 GREG ABBOTT:“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.”

___

FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:“Laura and I mourn the death of a brilliant jurist and important American, Supreme Court Justice Antonin

Scalia

. He was a towering figure and important judge on our Nation’s highest court. He brought intellect, good judgment, and wit to the bench, and he will be missed by his colleagues and our country.”

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