Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has died at the age of 79.
The San Antonio Express News first reported that Scalia had been found dead at a West Texas ranch, evidently as a result of natural causes. "Scalia arrived at the ranch on Friday and attended a private party with about 40 people. When he did not appear for breakfast, a person associated with the ranch went to his room and found a body," the paper reported.
John Roberts, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, confirmed the news in a statement.
"On behalf of the court and retired justices, I am saddened to report that our colleague Justice Antonin Scalia has passed away," Roberts said. "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 was one of the most influential justices in the history of the Supreme Court. A devotee of the concept of "originalism," Scalia and those he inspired argued that the Constitution should be interpreted as the founders intended it to be interpreted. Along with Clarence Thomas, Scalia is generally considered to be one of the most conservative members of the Supreme Court.
Scalia's death in the midst of a presidential election and during the last year of President Barack Obama's term makes the vacancy a hot political topic.
Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Kent.) said that the next president should fill the vacancy.
"The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President," McConnell said.
Conn Carroll, communications director for Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah), suggested that the president's chances of successfully nominating another justice are slim.
What is less than zero? The chances of Obama successfully appointing a Supreme Court Justice to replace Scalia?
— Conn Carroll (@conncarroll) February 13, 2016
Lee is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz echoed Carroll's sentiment:
Justice Scalia was an American hero. We owe it to him, & the Nation, for the Senate to ensure that the next President names his replacement.
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) February 13, 2016
Marco Rubio also suggested that the responsibility for choosing Scalia's replacement should fall to Obama's successor.
"The next president must nominate a justice who will continue Justice Scalia's unwavering belief in the founding principles that we hold dear," Rubio said in a statement.
GOP frontrunner Donald J. Trump praised Scalia's legacy, but did not immediately take a position on the timing of filling the vacancy.
"His career was defined by his reverence for the Constitution and his legacy of protecting Americans’ most cherished freedoms. He was a Justice who did not believe in legislating from the bench and he is a person whom I held in the highest regard and will always greatly respect his intelligence and conviction to uphold the Constitution of our country," Trump said.
Jeb Bush also praised Scalia's legacy without indicating that the next president should nominate Scalia's successor.
"Justice Scalia was a brilliant defender of the rule of law–his logic and wit were unparalleled, and his decisions were models of clarity and good sense. I often said he was my favorite justice, because he took the Constitution, and the responsibility of judges to interpret it correctly, with the utmost seriousness. Now it is up to all of us to fight for the principles Justice Scalia espoused and carry forth his legacy," Bush said.
The issue is sure to be raised during tonight's GOP debate in South Carolina.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott lamented the news earlier this afternoon in an emotional statement.
"Justice Antonin Scalia was a man of God, a patriot, and an unwavering defender of the written Constitution and the Rule of Law," Abbott said. "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."
This story will be updated as more details become available.