Pres. Obama plans to name successor for Justice Scalia

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Justice Antonin Scalia dead at 79, Deborah Wrigley has the latest details.

Antonin Scalia, the influential conservative and most provocative member of the Supreme Court, has died, leaving the high court without its conservative majority and setting up an ideological confrontation over his successor in the maelstrom of a presidential election year. Scalia was 79.

Scalia was found dead Saturday morning at private residence in the Big Bend area of West Texas, after he'd gone to his room the night before and did not appear for breakfast, said Donna Sellers, speaking for the U.S. Marshals Service in Washington. The cause of death was not immediately known. A gray hearse was seen at the entrance to the Cibolo Creek Ranch, near Shafter, on Saturday accompanied by an SUV.

President Barack Obama made clear Saturday night he would nominate a successor to Scalia, despite calls from Republicans to leave that choice - and the certain political struggle over it - to the next president. He promised to do so "in due time" while paying tribute to Scalia as "one of the towering legal figures of our time."

Scalia's death most immediately means that that the justices could be split 4-4 in cases going to the heart of the some of the most divisive issues in the nation - over abortion, affirmative action, immigration policy and more.

Scalia was part of a 5-4 conservative majority - with one of the five, Anthony Kennedy, sometimes voting with liberals on the court. In a tie vote, the lower court opinion prevails.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, as well as Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, said the nomination should fall to the next president.

Democrats were outraged at that idea, with Sen. Harry Reid, the chamber's top Democrat, saying it would be "unprecedented in recent history" for the court to have a vacancy for a year.

Texas has a stake in the outcome. The court is scheduled to hear the state's case regarding its ability to regulate abortion. The President's executive authority to dictate immigration policy is also to be heard, as well as a case on affirmative action.

"The importance of his voice that so many conservatives across the country hold dear, will be studied for so long," Republic consultant Jessica Colon said in remembering Justice Scalia.

The stakes for who the replacement may be are high for each party. Scalia represented a balance on the court, between conservatives and liberals. That balance has been upset.

GOP Presidential primary hopefuls are calling on the President to leave the vacancy unfilled until a new administration takes office next year. Mr Obama said tonight he will look for a successor, and called on the Senate to confirm whoever that nominee may be.

"The American people should have a voice in the selection.." Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell said.

Houston immigration attorney Charles Foster said Scalia's death has huge consequences for the country and its people.

"If you're an immigration advocate you may chances of the President being able to implement his deferred (immigration )action, the chances have gone up somewhat," Foster said.

KTRK legal analyst Joel Androphy predicts the court will be considered liberal in the next five years. Rulings could impact everything from the environment, to issues like abortion, to social issues.

"We should appoint people that are objectively brilliant and that can evaluate the laws of the constitution. Not somebody who favors one party or the other.," he said.

Scalia used his keen intellect and missionary zeal in an unyielding attempt to move the court farther to the right after his 1986 selection by President Ronald Reagan. He also advocated tirelessly in favor of originalism, the method of constitutional interpretation that looks to the meaning of words and concepts as they were understood by the Founding Fathers.

Scalia's impact on the court was muted by his seeming disregard for moderating his views to help build consensus, although he was held in deep affection by his ideological opposites Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan. Scalia and Ginsburg shared a love of opera. He persuaded Kagan to join him on hunting trips.

His 2008 opinion for the court in favor of gun rights drew heavily on the history of the Second Amendment and was his crowning moment on the bench.

Scalia and his wife, Maureen, had nine children.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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