Justice Antonin Scalia, a towering conservative voice on the United States (US) Supreme Court, has died at the age of 79, setting up a political showdown over his succession in the run-up to the presidential election.
His death after three decades on the Supreme Court bench, coming 11 months before a new American president takes office, could potentially tip the balance of the highest court in the land from its current 5-4 conservative majority to a liberal one.
The flag outside the Supreme Court was lowered to half-staff in tribute to Scalia, who died in his sleep at a private residence in the Big Bend area of West Texas, according to the US Marshals Service.
President Barack Obama led tributes for the court’s longest-serving justice, who was first appointed in 1986 by Ronald Reagan.
“For almost 30 years, Justice Antonin Scalia was a larger than life presence on the bench, a brilliant legal mind with an energetic style,” Obama told reporters in Rancho Mirage, California.
“Tonight we honor his extraordinary service to our nation and remember one of the towering legal figures of our time.”
Obama also made clear he fully intended to nominate a successor to Scalia, in accordance with his “constitutional responsibilities”, after leading Republicans demanded the task be left to the next president.