Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia dies at age 79

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Antonin Scalia, the influential conservative and most provocative member of the Supreme Court, has died. He was 79.

The U.S. Marshal’s Service in Washington confirmed Scalia’s death at a private residence in the Big Bend area of South Texas.

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.

A statement was released by Chief Justice John Roberts, saying:

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 treasure 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.

The flag outside of the Supreme Court was lowered to half-mast to honor Scalia.

Hawaii Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald also said:

On behalf of the Hawaii State Judiciary, I’d like to extend my sincere condolences to Justice Scalia’s family. Justice Scalia has come to Hawaii on several occasions, most recently in 2014, when he spoke at the William S. Richardson School of Law.  We thank Justice Scalia for his 30 years of service to our nation’s highest court.

The first Italian-American to sit on the nation’s highest court, Scalia was a conservative in thought, but not in personality.

The jaunty jurist was able to light up, or ignite, a room with his often brash demeanor and wicked sense of humor, grounded always in a profound respect for American law and its constitutional traditions.

“What can I say,” was a favorite phrase of the man colleagues knew as “Nino.” As it turned out, quite a lot.

“Justice Scalia had an irrepressibly pugnacious personality,” said Edward Lazarus, a former Supreme Clerk law clerk who wrote about the experience in “Closed Chambers.”

“And even in his early years of the Court, that came out at oral argument when he was the most aggressive questioner. And behind the scenes, where the memos he would write– what were called ‘Ninograms’– inside the court had a real galvanizing effect on the debate among the justices.”

A sharp mind combined with a sharp pen allowed Scalia to make his point, both to the pleasure and disappointment of his colleagues and the public.

“He could be belligerent, he was obviously very candid about he felt about things,” said Joan Biskupic, a USA Today reporter who wrote a biography of Scalia. “He loved to call it as he saw it, completely not politically correct. In fact, he prided himself on not being PC on the bench in court.”

His New York and Mediterranean roots — “I’m an Italian from Queens” he was fond of saying– helped fashion a love of words and debate, combining street smarts with a well-calculated conservative view of the law and its limits on society.

“He was very good with audiences that weren’t predisposed to like him,” said Paul Clement, a former Scalia law clerk. “He was incredibly disarming and charming in his own way.”

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