Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia found dead

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Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia has been found dead in West Texas.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott confirmed the justice’s death, as did the U.S. Marshals Service.

He seems to have died of natural causes, the San Antonio Express-News reported.

CNN reported he died during his sleep.

Scalia, 79, was a the Cibolo Creek Ranch for a private party Friday but was not at breakfast the following morning, prompting a search of his room, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

Abbott released the following statement:

“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.”

In a statement, Chief Justice John Roberts said he and other justices were “saddened” to hear of Scalia’s passing.

“He was an extraordinary individual and jurist, admired and treasured by his colleagues,” Roberts said. “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.”

Local and federal law enforcement agencies are investigating.

Scalia has been on the Supreme Court since 1986 when he was appointed by former President Ronald Reagan.

He championed the philosophy of “orginalism,” meaning he interprets the Constitution according to what he believes the original authors intended over 200 years ago.

In a 2008 interview with “60 Minutes,” he told correspondent Lesley Stahl that he believes the Constitution is an “enduring” document he wants to defend.

“It’s what did the words mean to the people who ratified the Bill of Rights or who ratified the Constitution,” Scalia said.

“But you do admit that values change? We do adapt. We move,” Stahl asked.

“That’s fine,” he answered. “And so do laws change. Because values change, legislatures abolish the death penalty, permit same-sex marriage if they want, abolish laws against homosexual conduct. That’s how the change in a society occurs. Society doesn’t change through a Constitution.”

His 2008 opinion for the court in favor of gun rights was his crowning moment in more than 30 years on the bench.

He was a strong advocate for privacy in favoring restrictions on police searches and protections for defendants’ rights. 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.

Scalia’s impact on the court was muted by his seeming disregard for moderating his views to help build consensus.

His replacement to the court would be President Obama’s third nomination. He previously nominated Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

Scalia’s death in an election year sets up a titanic confirmation tussle over his successor on the bench. The already challenging task of getting a Democratic president’s nominee through a Republican-controlled Senate will made even more difficult as the fight over Scalia’s replacement will emerge as a dominant theme of an already wild presidential election.

“His departure leaves a huge political fight in the offing because this is a court with five Republican appointees (and) four Democratic appointees,” CNN Senior Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin said.

Major presence on high court

The first Italian-American to sit on the nation’s highest court, Scalia was a conservative in thought, but not in personality.

The jaunty jurist was able to light up, or ignite, a room with his often brash demeanor and wicked sense of humor, grounded always in a profound respect for American law and its constitutional traditions.

“What can I say,” was a favorite phrase of the man colleagues knew as “Nino.” As it turned out, quite a lot.

“Justice Scalia had an irrepressibly pugnacious personality,” said Edward Lazarus, a former Supreme Clerk law clerk who wrote about the experience in “Closed Chambers.”

“And even in his early years of the Court, that came out at oral argument when he was the most aggressive questioner. And behind the scenes, where the memos he would write — what were called ‘Ninograms’ — inside the court had a real galvanizing effect on the debate among the justices.”

A sharp mind combined with a sharp pen allowed Scalia to make his point, both to the pleasure and disappointment of his colleagues and the public.

“He could be belligerent, he was obviously very candid about he felt about things,” said Joan Biskupic, a USA Today reporter who wrote a biography of Scalia. “He loved to call it as he saw it, completely not politically correct. In fact, he prided himself on not being PC on the bench in court.”

His New York and Mediterranean roots — “I’m an Italian from Queens” he was fond of saying — helped fashion a love of words and debate, combining street smarts with a well-calculated conservative view of the law and its limits on society.

“He was very good with audiences that weren’t predisposed to like him,” said Paul Clement, a former Scalia law clerk. “He was incredibly disarming and charming in his own way.”

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