PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has died, according to the governor of Texas and multiple news outlets.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a statement lauding Scalia, 79, just as news of his death emerged publicly shortly before 5 p.m. CBS News confirmed Scalia’s death a short time later.
The U.S. Marshal’s Service in Washington confirmed Scalia’s death at a private residence in the Big Bend area of South Texas. News outlets in Texas reported that Scalia had been quail hunting on Friday.
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 was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986 and has long been a leader among conservatives on the nation’s highest court, known for his sharp wit and his devotion to a jurisprudence of “originalism.”
Scalia’s death will open up a seat on the nine-member Supreme Court, and could allow President Barack Obama to appoint a liberal justice to succeed Scalia, shifting the balance on the court.
Obama said Saturday he plans to fulfill his constitutional responsibility and nominate a successor to fill the vacancy.
In a direct rebuttal to Senate Republicans, Obama said there is plenty of time for the Senate to confirm his choice.
But Senate Republicans have already signaled they may block any appointment by Obama. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell quickly issued a statement saying no justice should be confirmed until a new president takes office, and presidential hopeful U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz urged the same on Twitter:
Obama pointedly called the decision “bigger than any one party.” He said it is about democracy.
Scalia has visited Rhode Island repeatedly over the years, making headlines in 2010 when he fell after leaving the restaurant Venda Ravioli.
Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.