WASHINGTON — 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 the Cibolo Creek Ranch, a luxury resort in the in the Big Bend region of south Texas, south of Marfa, near San Antonio.
The service’s spokeswoman, Donna Sellers, says the associate Supreme Court justice was a guest there, had retired for the evening and was found dead Saturday morning when he didn’t appear for breakfast.
The cause of death wasn’t immediately released, but the San Antonio Express News reported Scalia died of apparent natural causes.
It said Scalia had gotten to the ranch Friday and was one of about 40 people to attend a party there.
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Texas Gov. Greg Abbot, giving the first official notice of Scalia’s death, said: “Justice Antonin Scalia was a man of God, a patriot and an unwavering defender of the written Constitution and the rule of law. 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.”
Scalia was nominated to the court in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan. He was the first Italian American to serve on the court.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts said in a written statement Saturday: “On behalf of the court and retired justices, I am saddened to report that our colleague Justice Antonin Scalia has passed away. 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.”
Scalia used his keen intellect and missionary zeal in an unyielding attempt to move the court farther to the right after his appointment. He also was a tireless advocate 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. Scalia and 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, Scalia often 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.
A smoker of cigarettes and pipes, Scalia enjoyed baseball, poker, hunting and the piano. He was an enthusiastic singer at court Christmas parties and other musical gatherings, and once appeared on stage with Ginsburg as a Washington Opera extra.
Ginsburg once said that Scalia was “an absolutely charming man, and he can make even the most sober judge laugh.”
She said that she urged her friend to tone down his dissenting opinions “because he’ll be more effective if he is not so polemical. I’m not always successful.”
In this Sept. 26, 1986 file photo, retiring Chief Justice Warren Burger, right, administers an oath to Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, as Scalia’s wife, Maureen, holds the bible during ceremonies in the East Room of White House, Washington. Scalia was the 103rd person to sit on the court. On Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, the U.S. Marshals Service confirmed that Scalia has died at the age of 79. AP Photo/Charles Tasnadi