Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, known as a firebrand conservative with a penchant for unique phrasing in his opinions, died of apparent natural causes at the age of 79, Chief Justice John Roberts confirmed Saturday night.
Scalia was attending a private party on a ranch near Marfa, Texas on Friday. His body was discovered in his room when he did not appear at breakfast on Saturday.
“I am saddened to report that our colleague Justice Antonin Scalia has passed away,” Justice Roberts said in a statement. “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.”
As the news circulated, several prominent New Yorkers discussed his passing.
“We mourn tonight for the loss of Justice Antonin Scalia,” said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in a series of tweets on Saturday. “He grew up in Queens, went to school in Manhattan and became the country’s first Italian-American Supreme Court Justice. He was proud to be a New Yorker, and New Yorkers were proud to have one of their own serve as a Supreme Court Justice.”
Senator Chuck Schumer, in a statement, said, “While we disagreed on many issues, Justice Scalia was a brilliant man and a great son of Queens with a genuine joy for life.”
“I am saddened to learn of Justice Scalia’s passing and my thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends during this time of loss,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Like Senator Schumer, she said she disagreed often with rulings, and added, “Justice Scalia was a dedicated jurist and his public service will long be remembered.”
Former New York Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton gave her condolences to Scalia’s friends and family and called the late justice “a dedicated public servant who brought energy and passion to the bench.”
Beyond New York, Florida Senator and Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio said Scalia will be remembered as “one of the great justices in the history of this republic” and praised the late juror for his dissent in Obergefell v. Hoghes, which legalized same-sex marriage nationally. The decision was one of many cases in which Scalia opined against LGBT rights.
Scalia’s opinions from the bench were nothing if not quotable. In 2015, he notably referred to the majority opinion in the decision of King v. Burwell, which ultimately upheld certain provisions of the Affordable Healthcare Act, as “jiggery-pokery” and “pure applesauce.”
Scalia was born March 11, 1936 in Trenton, New Jersey, and his family moved to Elmhurst, Queens when Scalia was six years old. He often referred to himself as an “Italian from Queens.” He went on to graduate first in his class at Jesuit Xavier High School in Manhattan. He also graduated valedictorian from Georgetown University in 1957 and studied law at Harvard.
In 1960, Scalia married Maureen McCarthy, whom he met that same year while at Harvard. McCarthy was studying at nearby Radcliffe College at the time. The couple would go on to have nine children: five boys and four girls.
The conservative served in the Nixon administration as general counsel and later as an assistant attorney general for Presidents Nixon and Gerald Ford. Following Ford’s defeat by Jimmy Carter, Scalia taught law at the University of Chicago Law School and Stanford Law School.
In 1982, he declined a seat on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in hopes of being appointed to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which President Reagan offered him later that same year. Four years later, Reagan nominated Scalia to the Supreme Court.
Despite his conservative reputation, he formed a close friendship with fellow New Yorker and well-known liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The two often spoke fondly of each other and would be seen together socially, travelled to India together, and would dine together with their families every New Year’s Eve.
Scalia once referred to the two of them as “the odd couple.” “She likes opera, and she’s a very nice person. What’s not to like?,” Scalia said of his colleague. “Except her views on the law.”
Scalia also formed a friendship with liberal justice Elena Kagan. He taught her how to shoot a gun and would bring her along on hunting trips.
With Scalia’s passing, an Obama-nominated successor could tip the balance of the court from conservative to liberal-leaning. Many conservatives, including Republican presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, are calling for the next president to fill the vacant spot on the bench. However, Obama said on Saturday that he plans to nominate a successor.
Scalia is survived by his wife Maureen, nine children, and 36 grandchildren.