Antonin Scalia, associate justice of the Supreme Court, has died at the age of 79. The news was confirmed by Texas Governor Greg Abott Saturday afternoon.
The judge was reportedly taken ill while on a hunting trip in Marfa, Texas.
Scalia was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan, and was known as a strict originalist. In recent years he wrote some blistering dissents to landmark cases, like the recent decision in June that affirmed same-sex marriage rights nationwide.
His death leaves an opening in the Supreme Court, with questions over whether any nominee will be confirmed by the end of President Obama’s term. But it also may change the dynamics for existing cases on the court’s docket, including a case coming up for oral argument in March that challenges a Texas law restricting operations of abortion clinics.
The subject of Supreme Court nominees could be a hot topic at CBS’ Republican debate on Saturday. Scalia’s death set off intense media speculation about President Obama’s chances of confirming a new justice during he remainder of his tenure in office.
The court vacancy opens the possibility of a 4-4 split on the court between justices who lean conservative and those who lean liberal. Generally, in the case of a tie, the decision of the lower court stands.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in a Facebook message, said, “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.”
Presidential candidate Ted Cruz remembered Justice Scalia in a Facebook post on Saturday. “A champion of our liberties and a stalwart defender of the Constitution, he will go down as one of the few Justices who single-handedly changed the course of legal history,” Cruz wrote of Scalia.
Senator Bernie Sanders had this to say of Scalia: “While I differed with Justice Scalia’s views and jurisprudence, he was a brilliant, colorful and outspoken member of the Supreme Court. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and his colleagues on the court who mourn his passing.”
Rand Paul also shared his condolences.
The White House’s Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said, “This afternoon the President was informed of the passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. The President and First Lady extend their deepest condolences to Justice Scalia’s family.”
Cynthia Littleton and Ted Johnson contributed to this report